Liver Biopsy

How can six days feel like a year? But it has been six days since my last blog post and I’ve been so busy trying to figure out what is going on in my body that I’m mentally drained. Physically, thank g-d, I feel great. Emotionally and mentally, I just feel drained.

Last Thursday morning, I jumped out of bed when my alarm rang at 6:00, got Gaby and the kids out to school and took a cab to the Medical Center for a dermatologist appointment I had scheduled months and months ago. I was going for a routine mole check and because I’ve been breaking out more than I’d like as a 41 year old woman. I ended up spending almost an hour with her, explaining the situation, and getting a thorough workup for Melanoma. B”H she didn’t see anything but as we were sitting down and talking, she mentioned that I should go see an Opthalmologist because there is a very rare melanoma of the eye that first metastasizes in the liver. I remembered that my eye doctor from childhood told me that I had a freckle near my optic nerve so it was really worth getting looked at. My dermatologist was incredible and immediately called in a favor and got me an appointment across town with a colleague.

I can’t explain what it felt like to get some control back in my life. I have been spending days getting shuttled around from appointment to appointment, I stopped driving because I haven’t been in a good head space, and as an independent person, that was really hard. Thursday, I felt like I finally had some control and so I hopped a cab to Beit Hadfus and waited my turn for the Opthalmologist. While waiting for my eyes to dilate, I sat next to two octogenarians from New York. They were talking about their Grandchildren and people they knew in common, they talked about Daf Yomi and really boring, mundane stuff. And I felt a surge or jealousy that I can’t even explain. I was jealous of these 80 year old men just hanging out at the doctors office waiting their turn for routine appointments. And while I know I don’t know their back stories at all, I was envious because the future I had envisioned for myself – being a badass old Savta – is murkier these days. And that’s hard.

Fortunately, the Opthlamologist confirmed the presence of a freckle near my optic nerve but said it was flat and old and he doesn’t believe it to be the primary cancer. I felt both relief and frustration though since I really just want answers, but it gave me strong hope so I walked across the street to Shigaon Shel Shulchan and got a ton of turkey plates on clearance.

We were gonna have Thanksgiving on Friday night, no matter what. I love Thanksgiving, it’s literally my favorite national American holiday. I usually love to host a huge Thanksgiving with family and friends but I just wasn’t up for that this year. Instead, we had an intimate Friday night Thanksgiving at home where we all went around the table, said what we were thankful for, and ate delicious turkey with all the traditional Thanksgiving fare. We tucked the kids into bed later than usual Friday night and then my mind started to wander, and while I am really good during the day at just keeping busy and focusing on what I need to focus on, the nights are hard. Gaby begged me to take something to help me sleep and I finally gave in, and for the first night in days, I slept peacefully.

Shabbat we spent the afternoon being hosted by wonderful friends and we all had a great time. Sunday morning, it was back to the grind, as the liver biopsy appointment loomed closer and closer.  Sivan needed a blood test and a hearing test, and she was complaining that her throat hurt, so I spent the morning with her at the Medical Center. It felt good to focus on someone else for a couple of hours, even though the blood test was very unpleasant. I decided to let her stay home with me for a Yom Kef and we had a really nice day together.

So, here’s the thing about cancer, you realize you can’t push things off anymore because time is no longer infinite. I realized on Saturday night that I had never picked up the pottery we painted at Kad VaChomer back in August. And the kids really want to see what they had painted, so I decided that after our doctors appointments, we were going to go pick up their pottery. Except that Kad VaChomer was closed until 3:00 p.m. Sivan hung out in the little park next door and I watched her, with her boundless energy, run around and play. It was a special moment. Then I bought her lunch at Aroma, picked up some organic eggs, and returned home to meet with a 20 year old we are thinking about hiring to help with the kids. The afternoon was a blur of picking up, chug drop offs, and dinnertime. I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I went to bed at 11:30 p.m. and anxious about the liver biopsy in the morning.

What can I say about a liver biopsy? It’s not a pleasant procedure but I was in very capable hands. We were running late even though we left at 7:35 a.m. after my father-in-law came to pick up the kids and take them to school, and Gaby and I ended up sprinting through the parking lot to the appointment. I remarked that it’s crazy that I have no problem hustling and yet I have cancer.

We checked in, was admitted into day surgery ward, and I was given a bed and gown to change into. I didn’t have to wait too long but I was really, really anxious. Once again, they couldn’t find a vein since I’ve been blessed with crappy veins and after three tries, they were finally successful. Then an orderly came in and asked if the “Cholah” (sick person) was ready and I honestly looked around. I didn’t think it was me because again, I don’t feel like I’m a sick person. They took me to the ultrasound room where I met with the Professor doing the biopsy. And she was a no BS type of woman. I immediately felt confident in her ability and scared as hell. Here’s the thing about scary procedures, it take my ability to understand Hebrew and just obliterates it. And so she spent 5 minutes yelling at me to “LaZuz” (move) and “Lehistovev” (turn around) and I was just so scared that I couldn’t remember which was which. So, I moved when she wanted me to turn around and I turned around when she wanted me to move. Needless to say, she got frustrated with me. I asked at least three times if they could maybe give me a sedative and they ignored me, and then honestly I just closed my eyes and let them do what they needed to do. I felt helpless and just hoped the biopsy would be over quickly and successfully.

To get to the liver, she felt between my ribs and had me hold my breath a couple of times while cutting out a sample. Of course, holding my breath was hard and I ended up exhaling at the wrong time so she yelled again to hold my breath and thank g-d she didn’t puncture a lung. The biopsy part took about 20-25 minutes and when it was over, I felt pain in my right shoulder. Apparently, that’s very  normal and she told me that she really hopes they got everything they needed and we just have to wait for the pathology report.

Through this all, Gaby and my Mother-in-law were waiting, giving me the emotional support that I needed. They wheeled me into recovery where I laid on my back and dealt with the pain. They asked if the pain was really bad and thank g-d, it was manageable so I didn’t need to take any medication. Honestly, in my lifetime, I’ve had 3 C-sections, been through 36 hours of hard labor, had a D&C, 2 spinal taps, I’ve broken my wrist and my heel and you do not want to have a boil lanced. Not pleasant. My tolerance for pain thank g-d is pretty high, so I just dealt with the discomfort and after three hours, I was feeling much better. They let me out around 2:00 and I was home by 3:00 when the kids got out of school.

So, here’s the thing about liver biopsy recovery. I can’t shower for 24 hours (yuck), the bandage has to stay on for 48 hours (also yuck cause it’s itchy), I can’t fall or get pushed, and I can’t lift anything heavy for an entire week. I won’t bore you with the rest of my restrictions, those are the important ones. I was still feeling a little tentative when I got home, so I popped myself into bed and got to work.

Just FYI – I put in 10 hour day yesterday and got loads accomplished for work – which made me feel really great.

But, I couldn’t hug or hold my kids, and that proved really difficult for them. My eldest was sad, my middle had a meltdown, and my baby basically said eff that Mom and did whatever he wanted to do, which was climb up on the bed and try to get as closed to me as humanly possible.  We dealt with a lot of meltdowns last night and that made me really upset, because I have no idea what’s to come and if this is how they handle 1 night of me having to recoupperate in bed, how are they going to handle what I might have coming down the pike?

We did the best we could to just help them emotionally. I suggested they draw me get well pictures and they ran to the arts and crafts cupboard and got to work. It actually really helped calm them down and we were able to avoid any more major meltdowns. I was feeling very tired earlier than normal but I pushed myself to get in my 10 hours and then fell into bed at 12:30.

And then, the most amazing thing happened to me. I was awoken by the tinniest hands pressing ever so gently on my side. Now, we told the kids that they couldn’t join us in bed last night because I was worried someone might accidentally kick me in the side, but my son just couldn’t stay away. He kept gently pressing on me, not trying to wake me up like he would normally do, but tentatively just feeling around on my bandage. I kept my eyes closed and just waited to see what he would do and after a couple more gentle presses, he pulled the covers over his head, laid down and fell asleep. I know I told him not to join us in the bed, but I was really happy that he did.

That brings us to Tuesday morning. I was up at 6:00 with my alarm, made Aruchat Esser, packed book bags, dressed two kids, made breakfast, and basically got everyone out the door on time. Today is going to be a short day for the kids because tonight is Gaby’s cousin’s wedding. The girls are going to be flower girls and Tani is going to be wearing a coordinating outfit. I hired someone to do the girls hair and everyone is really excited.

Gaby and I are very close to his cousin Noa, who is getting married tonight, and so we made the joint decision not to tell the Zwebner side of the family about my diagnosis. So, even though we feel like the world knows about me, the Zwebner side is in the dark. We didn’t want anyone sad or anxious during Noa’s wedding, we want everyone to just be happy tonight. Aside from Gaby’s siblings and parents, and my friend Heddy, no one else in the family that will be at this wedding knows what’s going on with me. I’m looking forward to pretending for a couple of hours that I’m okay.

And now we’re back to waiting. At this point, I have no more procedures set up. I have no more doctors to go see, I just have to wait for the pathology report.

So we’re waiting and I’m trying to live my life the best way that I can. I’ve thrown myself into my work, I’ve been taking LOADS of advantage of Cyber shopping and sales because this year, the kids are going to have an AWESOME Chanukah, and I’ve started organizing things around the house.

Sorry for the long update, if you made it this far thanks for reading. And thank you all for davening for me. I’m overwhelmed and humbled by the incredible response from family and friends, I hope one day I will be able to repay each and every one of you for your kindness.

Please keep davening for me:

Shira Batya Bat Chaya Yehudit


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The waiting game

Before I update what’s been going on during the past 24 hours, I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me, started saying tehillim, organized learning, done a good deed for my refuah, etc. The incredible support I’ve been getting from so many people – past and present, friends and family – has been overwhelming. I appreciate you all, your support is uplifting.

The past 24 hours has been exhausting and busy. Last night, after getting preliminary reports from my PET CT, I left my husband to deal with dinner and I went to the Mikvah. This was my first Mikvah experience since my diagnosis and it was very, very difficult. After immersing in the waters, I just cried and cried while the Balanit kept telling me it was going to be okay.

How is this okay?

I didn’t sleep last night. Truth be told, closing my eyes is scary. So I spent the night wandering around the house, checking in on the kids and Gaby. I had an 8:15 a.m. appointment with my oncologist at Shaare Tzedek this morning and my anxiety levels were through the roof. I was up and moving well before my alarm rang at 6:00 a.m., and we managed to get all the kids off to school by 7:30 a.m.

The oncology ward at Shaare Tzedek was already teeming with people by 8:00 a.m. Let that sentence sink in because it is an unbelievable sight. We didn’t wait long before one of the oncologists on my case met with us and brought us into a room. I started the whole story of how I even got there to begin with and she shared the results of the PET CT with me.

The bad news: they couldn’t identify a primary source of cancer from the PET CT

Second bad news: I will need a biopsy of my liver to help determine the primary source of cancer, so that they can stage and figure out treatment

Third bad news: the PET CT results showed metastasis on my liver, spleen, and bone. They saw a small shadow on my right breast and possibly something in one follicle of the left ovary.

But even with all of the things they see on the scan, it’s not enough to know what kind of cancer I have. And, as much as it sucks, I now have to just wait. I have to wait to have a liver biopsy, then wait for the pathology report which could take between 10-14 days, before knowing hopefully what I have.

What I’ve learned during the past week of living with cancer is that knowing the primary source of cancer is CRUCIAL in treatment. These days, treatments are so so specialized that you must know the primary source. So, I’ve been praying for the following:

1) That by some grace of g-d and some miracle this is all a big mistake and it’s not cancer, but some other easily treatable rare medical issue.

2) If it really is cancer, they identify the primary source ASAP

I was overwhelmed with information after meeting with the oncologist and since most of the answers to my question was “we don’t know, we will know more after the liver biopsy” I didn’t leave anywhere closer to understanding what is going on with me. My husband asked my oncologist if I can do things, if I can exercise, what should I be eating?

My oncologist said that I can do whatever I feel well enough to do, and that I can definitely exercise. In fact, he encourages it. He then paused and said, it would also be good if I could try to lose some weight.

And I just looked at him and said “but that’s EXACTLY what I was trying to do and somehow I ended up here!” He smiled. I guess even oncologists can have a sense of humor.

Because of the small shadow they saw on the PET CT in my right breast, they sent me to have a repeat mammogram and ultrasound. Fortunately, they were able to get me in today for these tests.

Now, I had my very first mammogram and ultrasound back in July. As soon as I hit 40, I spoke to my doctor and discussed going for this test. My maternal Grandmother had breast cancer in her 50’s and I wanted to make sure I was tested early and often. I also participated in a BRCA1 trial last year and was told that the results were negative and I did not carry the gene. They told me back in July that the tests were all normal, and I felt such relief!

Today, after taking what seemed like a million images of my right breast, the doctor did an ultrasound and decided to biopsy whatever the “spot” is that was picked up in the PET CT. Now, no one warned me about a biopsy and I’ve never had one before, so you can imagine how frightened I was. And have you ever seen the size of a biopsy needle?? I just closed my eyes tight and tried to imagine myself anywhere but on that table. I was shaking so hard from fear that the mammogram technician had to physically hold me steady.

And now we are back to waiting. This test will also take between 10-14 days before we get any results back. I’m scheduled for a liver biopsy on Monday morning. That test will take four days longer before I can get the results and see my oncologists.

There are a number of restrictions on what you can physically do after a biopsy. One of which is that I can’t lift anything weighing more than 5 pounds for the next 3 days. That would have been okay if 1) I wasn’t making a Thanksgiving turkey for Friday night dinner and 2) if my 4 year old didn’t have the mother of all meltdowns tonight, begged me to pick him up and hold him, and I was just not able to do it.

That was hard. Not being able to pick up my baby was emotional.

But I am really, really trying to stay positive.  After putting up a wash, moving the wash into the dryer, hanging the wash, cooking rice for dinner, and dealing with a big work crisis, I joked that “this is what Mommy cancer looks like.”

Walking around in this unknown phase is excruciating and disorienting. I need to get through one last test, the liver biopsy, on Monday morning. And all of this waiting.

But I’m really going to try to power through.

Please keep praying for me: Shira Batya Bat Chaya Yehudit

PS. We still haven’t told the kids, we need more information before we can talk to them. They know something is up but we are trying to act as normal as possible in front of them. This might not be the best decision we are making as parents, but for now, we feel like it’s just the best decision for them. 


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Living with Cancer

Disclaimer: Our children do not know about my cancer diagnosis. If you have children who are friends with mine, please do not mention this anywhere near them. We will be telling them soon but need more time. 

It has been six days since my cancer diagnosis. Not even a week has passed and yet it feels like a lifetime. To say that I expected to go a full life without getting cancer would be a lie, but I certainly didn’t expect it to come knocking on my door at 41.

Here’s what I know: I have metastatic cancer of the liver. That means that I don’t have cancer of the liver, just that I have cancer that has already spread to my liver. Right now, they don’t know the primary source of the cancer.

How we discovered the cancer is probably the craziest story you will ever read. So here goes.

This summer, after YEARS of yo-yo dieting, fad dieting, etc. I decided I wanted to take a drastic step in getting my weight problem under control. My blood pressure had been rising even with diet modification and exercise, and I didn’t want to start taking blood pressure medication. I didn’t like the way the meds made me feel and I was convinced that if I just lost the weight, my blood pressure would improve. In October 2016, I joined a group of women on Facebook who were following the Beachbody program. I joined and after 3 weeks I lost 10 pounds and loads of inches. I felt great, I started drinking their protein shake, followed the diet religiously and managed to lose another 10 pounds. But then the beginning of three back to back business trips started and traveling caused the weight to creep back up. I spent January – June gaining and losing the same 10 pounds on Beachbody. By July, I had enough and was disgusted with myself. At the suggestion of my primary care physician, I decided I wanted to undergo gastric bypass surgery. This was a chance for me to finally once and for all lose the weight and my chances of maintaining the weight loss with surgery was very high. It was a scary thought and a big lifestyle change, but I want to live a healthy, physically active life with my husband and three children.

So, I started to prepare for gastric bypass surgery. I did online research and enlisted my husband’s help in finding the top bariatric surgeon in Israel. And my amazing husband was able to bump up my appointment with the surgeon since once I make up my mind about something, I want it done right away. I met with the surgeon in September and even though I was slightly under the minimal level of weight required to qualify for the surgery, he agreed to move forward. So, I started to actually gain weight in order to qualify for insurance purposes and he sent me off to do a host of pre-op tests.

The pre-op tests for gastric bypass is a long list: chest x-ray, stomach ultrasound, blood work, psychiatrist appointment, EKG’s, barium test, etc. My husband scheduled appointment after appointment, some that took 4 months to book, and after the chagim I had my first appointment. On October 28th, I went for the chest x-ray and stomach ultrasound.

A couple of days later, my doctor called to tell me that they found spots on my liver during the stomach ultrasound and – just to be on the safe side – she’s sending me for a CT. She told me not to panic, it could be anything, and we would get to the bottom of everything.

So, I didn’t panic but I did Google to see what could be spots on a liver. And, sure enough, cancer was one of the first things to come up in search. But there was no way I could have cancer! I feel 100% fine. Sure, I’m a little tired, but I get 5 hours of sleep on average, have three kids, home chores, etc. What mother of young children isn’t tired?? I decided not to panic but we did use whatever influence possible to bump up my CT appointment. By some miracle from G-d, there was a cancellation and I had my CT on November 8th.

And then on November 15th, our doctor called us into her office and told us that I have cancer. Maybe one day I’ll be able to write how I felt last Wednesday night, to put into words how terrible it was to tell people that we love that I have cancer. How surreal it was to hear the diagnosis, the physical sensation of real fear, the heartbreak of watching my husband cry.  Right now, it’s just too raw.

During this appointment, I was told that I needed to go for blood work to identify cancer/tumor markers, have a PET CT to find the primary source of the cancer, and to find an oncologist. But, selecting an oncologist will have to come after the PET CT since cancer is specialized. You see an oncologist based on the type of cancer you have and right now, we don’t know what type of cancer I have, just that it has already spread. I will probably also need a liver biopsy, although we are hopeful we will get all the answers from the PET CT.

The good news is that my blood test results are normal. Thank g-d. I had my PET CT on Sunday and I’m still waiting for the results. The waiting is sheer torture; I have good moments and really bad ones.

For now, I am continuing my life as close to “normal” as possible although my life will never be normal again. Last night, I worked until 12:45 a.m. and was up with the kids at 6:00 a.m. I made them aruchat esser and lunch, helped them get dressed and dried their tears, packed their bags for the day and dug out their rain gear. I hugged them goodbye and they went off to school. They sense that something is up but they don’t know and we aren’t in a position to tell them. I need to know more information like: what cancer do I have, is it treatable (please g-d!!), what is the treatment, how will I be feeling, etc. before we can tell them. I want to have as much information as possible so that I can answer all of their questions. For now, we just have too many questions.

My cousin Tova suggested that I keep a blog so that the people who love and care about us can stay informed. I never thought this blog would turn into a “cancer blog” but here it is.

Please pray for me.

Shira Batya Bat Chaya Yehudit


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The Most Awkward Woman in the Shul: Rosh Hashanah Edition


So, I’m the Most Awkward Woman in a Shul (temple/synagogue depending on your religious denomination). I don’t know how after almost 41 years of shul going, I became the most awkward woman in the shul. But, it’s definitely the best way to describe me. I try to avoid shul going for this very reason because, inevitably, I do something awkward and weird and I feel mortified and there are just so many shuls we can go to in Jerusalem. We’ve been through five so far and well, it looks like after Rosh Hashanah, we may be on the way out of another one.

So, I tend to avoid shuls all together and when the occassional need arrives where my attendance is absolutely necessary (read: High Holidays and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs), I just pray I make it through.

If you know me, you also know about my obsessive personality. So of course, since first day of Rosh Hashanah ended, I cannot stop thinking about the incident that has solidified my title as the “Most Awkward Woman in the Shul.™”

During the High Holidays and once a month on Shabbat Mevarchim (special prayer for the new Moon), we like to pray at an Assisted Living Facility Old Age Home in Jerusalem. We enjoy the atmosphere and the people, and we especially like how some of the residents really light up when they see our children running around the hallways. It also helps that no one yells at the kids for being too noisy or messy or rowdy; they are just legitimately so happy to have the little ones around to interact with.

On High Holidays, a number of the residents (especially those who are very mobile and mentally sound) will pray with us in the community room turned into a shul. So, by the time I sauntered into davening with 10 minutes to go before the first Shofar blowing, the women’s section was pretty packed. Not too crowded that I wasn’t able to snag three seats for myself and the little ones, but impressively populated nonetheless.

I settled in to daven for the first time all year, and refereed a little bit between the kids, and was hoping to just get through the entire Rosh Hashanah liturgy without any awkward incident.

G-d clearly had other plans for me.

One thing I should mention here is that we oftentimes have to help some of the other women during davening, especially those who live at the facility. Whether it’s to find the place, or to help move chairs so that wheelchairs can get in and out of the rows, or even something small like lifting a shawl that slipped off of a woman’s shoulders during the prayers. Whatever it is, there’s always some small ways the non-residents are available to help the Assisted Living Facility Nursing Home residents successfully attend the davening.

I let the first 30 sounds of the Shofar fill my soul and began the long Mussaf Amidah on aching feet in shoes that were just not the right footwear for such a long davening. But I was feeling good inside, hopeful for a good New Year, silent prayers for myself and husband and our children going through my mind. My outlook was rosy, it was a New Year! Our sins will be forgiven, and we will be written into the Book of Life!

It was during this high, almost meditative state that my 6 year old needed a bathroom and so I put down my Machzor (special prayer book for Rosh Hashanah) and took her to the bathroom. We were in there longer that I had planned and I started to get anxious since there are another 30 Shofar blasts embedded within the Chazzan’s repetition of the Mussaf prayer, and I really did not want to miss them.  So I tried to hurry her along. Finally, after babbling on and on about the emergency pull cord that is installed in all bathrooms at the Assisted Living facility (Mommy, do you know why this is here? Mommy, let me tell you why this is here! Mommy, it’s in case someone needs some help! And Mommy, we shouldn’t pull it because we don’t need help. Do we need help, Mommy? etc. etc. etc.) she was done!

We hurried back to the makeshift shul and walked into the room, where I immediately noticed two things. 1) Every one was standing and 2) there were what looked like two pieces of paper on the floor in front of an elderly woman.

Well, I was feeling helpful, since that’s part of my unofficial role at the shul, and as I quickly made my way back to my seat, I swiftly bent down, picked up what turned out to be two tissues that had been spread out onto the floor in front of this woman, and put them gently down on this woman’s seat. I then continued to my seat without looking her way.

The mistake I had just made didn’t dawn on me right away. I flipped some pages looking for the right spot, and then the Chazzan called out in his booming voice “Alenu” and still, it didn’t register. It wasn’t until I was semi-prostrated onto the marble floor and was able to glance back at the now scowling woman, that I realized my mistake. Those two carefully laid out tissues did not just fall from her Machzor but were rather placed purposely to cover the ground that she was able to kneel on during the prayer.

I’m sure I flushed a bright red and not from the blood rushing to my head in my awkward prostrating position (I don’t go all the way down on the floor since that’s not what we did as children, but rather we like kinda crouch real low and throw our head over like when you’re at the hairdresser and they want to blow dry underneath) with shame. When we were finally able to stand, I glanced her way again and this time she was tsking and muttering and shaking her head in my direction. She then carefully folded these two tissues like they were an Hermes scarf and tucked them back into the folds of her Machzor.

Whoops! I was really embarrassed.

Fortunately, my husband popped his head into the women’s section a couple of minutes later and I quickly went out to tell him what happened. I asked him what should I do? Should I apologize to her and say that I hadn’t realized where we were up to and obviously I would never have picked up the tissues had I realized they were on the floor on purpose?

My husband shook his head and said no, I should make myself “Nishvisindik” and just ignore it. Act like it never happened. If I start apologizing then she’ll feel cause for anger even though it was a mistake and we will end up causing more of an issue then it really was, etc..

I was surprised he managed to use my Mom’s favorite Yiddish phrase for such an occasion but when it comes to Israeli culture, I take my queues from him. And so, I returned to my seat while avoiding this woman’s gaze. I did notice that she had moved her seat up by two rows, thus putting five rows of seat between us, making a significant separation so I shouldn’t feel the need to “help” her again. The “Most Awkward Woman in the Shul.™” strikes again, I thought miserably.

So, why am I sharing this story with all of you during the Ten Days of Penitence? Is it my search for public absolution for not apologizing to this woman on the one day of the year you are SUPPOSED to say you’re sorry? Is it to share my shame so my friends can also tell me to just forget about it and move on, it wasn’t such a big deal?

Nope. I’m sharing my story as a cautionary tale for this New Year. Something I will definitely try to do moving forward.

If there is anything you can learn from my story it’s this:

Make sure a person needs help, before you help them.

Gmar Chatimah Tovah. May we ALL merit a place in the Book of Life and may this year be full of good health, happiness, good fortune and limited awkward moments.




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Mommy, I Look Fat


I don’t know why this morning’s meltdown took me so completely off guard. But it was upsetting nonetheless. It’s the second time I’m breaking my “don’t write about my kids” rule because this topic is just so important.

It’s trip day at camp and yesterday, my almost 8 year old brought home the camp t-shirt she needs to wear today. I don’t know if they just handed out random sizes, or if I wrote the wrong size t-shirt on her forms, but this morning she stood crying in front of my mirror because the shirt was too big. And it wasn’t that she was upset that it was too big because it was uncomfortable or the weight of the extra fabric was bulky, but because she “looked fat.”

At first, I laughed, head buried underneath a mound of blanket trying to snooze as my husband did the morning shift. I went to bed at 2:00 a.m. after a long night at work and so I was bleary eyed and sleepy as this 7:30 a.m. tirade unfolded next to me.

I peeked at her and watched as she sneered at her reflection in the mirror, pulling at the extra fabric around her waist. She pulled and pushed, bunched up in little fists and wound the t-shirt around her waist like she was kneading bread. I tried to find a solution and offered to make a knot in her shirt so it would feel snug around her belly and she cried harder. She wanted to change her shirt, she looked fat, and she did not want to go to camp looking that way.

What got to me was not so much that she could ever think a little bulk in a t-shirt could make her look fat when she is tall and healthy. She is well within her BMI and slender, we laugh because we have a hard time finding pants and swimsuit bottoms that fit her. And she is beautiful. I know, I’m biased, but she really is very pretty.

But how she looked at herself in the mirror this morning with such disgust really got to me. That self-loathing at the way she perceived her body looked this morning was so hard to watch, so difficult to comprehend.

For those who are reading this and don’t know me,  or haven’t seen me in quite some time, I am fat. I am not chubby or curvy. I am not “a little overweight” or “haven’t lost the baby weight yet.” I am categorically obese. Like, my doctor asked me if I would consider lap band surgery obese.

I have battled with my body weight my entire life. I constantly struggle with the self loathing because of the way my body looks. I’ve battled an eating disorder for more than 20 years and those scars will never fade. I look in the mirror and frequently despise what I see: the stretch marks and cellulite, the thunder thighs and the mounds of flesh packed around what used to be a waist.

But what I have always been extremely careful about is never, ever, complaining about my body in front of my children. Those are closed door conversations that, in moments of weakness, I have with my husband.  Those sighs of despair when I look at myself in the mirror moments happen in the quiet of the night, before/after a shower, with the bathroom door closed.

If anything, I celebrate my fatness with my children. When asked about the excess flab around my waist, I remind them that that’s where they used to live – how they grew and swam inside of me and how happy I was when they were in there. When they say: “Mommy, you’re fat!” I say with a smile and a shout “yes, I am!” and “I’m fat, and I’m on the tall side for a “Jewish” woman, and I have blonde hair and green eyes. I’m kind and I’m funny, and I’m smart and I’m loving, etc.”  I try to dress well, putting on some make up here or there when the mood strikes me. I smell great – seriously – I own enough Jo Malone to rival the storefronts and the kids are always hugging me and breathing in my scent and remarking how much they love my smell. I work out in front of them – the treadmill in my living room not just an ornament and the large medicine ball is used for crunches and not just for play time.

And she hears my husband tell me ALL the time how beautiful I am, how nice I look, how much he loves me. She sees him put his arms around me and give me hugs, and she observes how he looks at me with real love in his eyes.

But as much as we keep things “fat positive” on the homefront, I can’t shield her from society. I couldn’t stop her friend from looking at her plate at a Shabbat morning Kiddush – empty except for 6 potato chips and a cupcake – and warning her that she would “get fat if she ate ALL of that.” And even though I laughed and told my daughter that there was no way she would get fat by eating what was on her plate, and telling her friend that she was very mistaken about what she was saying, the damage was already done. That fear of becoming fat – as if fat is the most terrible thing one could be – has already been introduced to her and it is festering.

I couldn’t shield her from the well meaning family member who asked me if I planned on losing any weight before my brother-in-law’s wedding this September. (I told her that no, I was not really thinking about that aspect of the wedding). And I couldn’t shield her from the people on the street who used to stop me and remark at how good I looked because I had lost some weight. To her eyes, people only compliment me when Mommy has lost weight. Which, I think, is truly a shame.

We finally managed to convince her that she looked great even in the larger shirt and my husband took her to camp. She was okay once she got there and when he called me from the car, after drop off, I couldn’t stop the tears. I wondered, does she look at herself in the mirror and say:

“I hope I don’t look like my Mom.”

Because if she does, then all of the things my parents, the nasty kids growing up, and society has told me my whole life is really true. That being fat is the most horrible thing you can be in life. That it doesn’t matter how many degrees you have, or how accomplished you are in your career. Whether you are a talented photographer or artist, a gifted writer or a musician. It makes no difference if you are kind, or smart, empathetic or funny. It doesn’t matter if you’ve traveled the world or are a philanthropist. If you open your home to Shabbat guests and cook your heart out to make a restaurant quality meals. If you give charity or adopt a stray pet. If you’re there for your friends in times of need, or are the first person to volunteer to cook for someone after they had a baby or g-d forbid when they lose a loved one. If you take a friend to a movie because dating is so hard, or if you drop everything to take your recently divorced friend out for a drink.

None of that matters, if you are fat.

And statistically, I already know my kids are at a big disadvantage of developing an eating disorder because of my personal struggle with bulimia. I wouldn’t wish that aspect of my life on my worst enemy, let alone my beloved children. How I wish I could explain to them what it’s like to be me, to live in the constant shadow of an eating disorder.

To wake up in the morning and literally fight with myself to put food into my body before Noon. It is actually physically painful to sit down and eat breakfast. I had spent so many years starving myself an entire day until I got to dinner, where I would just binge out of control because I was so hungry. I have to convince myself that it’s okay to eat. That “fat girls don’t eat” is not true – that everyone needs food to survive. I have to remind myself when I have company that I need to also sit down and eat, that it’s okay to eat “in public” and no one is really watching me or judging me (and if they are, screw em!).

And when life gets truly hard and painful – I have to muster up all of my strength to stop myself from binging and purging. To not go through the kitchen like a tornado, eating everything in site, and then getting rid of it all down the toilet.

So here we are, in a place that I prayed as a parent I never would be even though I knew we would get here. And I know just how important my actions in dealing with this morning’s episode will be on my daughter’s future.

On a future where I hope she will grow to love her body – no matter what it looks like – and to just live and love life.




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Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah


Its been almost 10 years to the day since I boarded that airplane on a new adventure in Tel Aviv. But Mom, Dad, this has been a really tough year and I wanna come back to New York.

I’ve spent a decade living in this gorgeous, hot, smelly, tense, suffocating, liberating, rejuvenating, infuriating Country. And though I’ve lived through too many terrorist attacks and personal deaths, births and celebrations, issues with the taxes authority and with neighbors (both within the building and in nearby villages), it has been the school system that has broken me.

Immigrant parenting is difficult and heartbreaking, lonely and isolating. I’ve spent an entire year fighting and I’m defeated. My gloves are off and I’m out for the count.

I’ve spent an entire year struggling to help my eldest child in school. The language barrier the stumbling block that I couldn’t overcome. I’ve sat through meeting after meeting in a fog, clawing at the few words I could understand, constantly looking at my spouse to translate so I could respond and react. In my broken Hebrew, I struggled to advocate for her, to explain what our needs are, to demand the changes that needed to take place for her to thrive and succeed academically and socially. And it was fruitless, as my words fell on deaf ears.

And it wasn’t just my second graders experience, but my toddler too. Here I thought putting him in a gan setting with only 5 other children would be the best environment. A small  group where he could pick up the language and slowly learn how to behave socially with other children. I knew that the language would be an issue initially, but young minds are much better at learning new languages, and I knew he would pick it up quickly. But I made the mistake of placing him in a group of children who had already spent an entire year together the previous year. And while I never would have sent an older child into a situation where he/she would have to break in to an established group of friends, I didn’t think that would be an issue with a toddler.

I was wrong.

And not just about the group of 5 children accepting him, although the gannenet insists that he was accepted into the group by Chanukah (that’s 4 months folks of him being the outsider, pushed aside when he wanted to play with toys, hit and yelled at when he accidentally sat in someone else’s chair, etc.) but the Mommies of this group of 5 kids were less than welcoming.

Shy about my less than fluent Hebrew, I kept to saying “hello and goodbye” during pickup. As the other Mommies chatted among themselves, I would collect my son’s things, try to figure out what the gannenet was saying regarding his day, and immediately leave.  I rushed to my middle child’s English speaking gan where I found sanctuary. I was able to understand how her day was going, and speak freely and comfortably with the other parents. It was welcoming and comforting to be able to call the gannenet with an issue and eloquently converse, and even more comforting when I was able to fully understand the gannenet’s response. I yearn to be able to keep all my children in that English speaking gan, from both a language perspective and because the gannenet is truly an amazing, experienced educator.

But last night, well, last night was the proverbial straw. The 10:00 p.m. addition to a Whatsapp group of the Mommies from my son’s gan, where one Mommy apologized for just realizing I wasn’t a part of the group that was discussing the end of year gift for the gannenet. The gift, I discovered, would be a compilation of images of the children from gan into a movie for the gannenet. And they were planning on presenting it to the gannenet at our children’s end of year party.

Which was at 9:45 a.m. today.

That means that for however many weeks and days they have all been discussing what gift to give, and sharing images to include, I was not included in the conversation. That means they had weeks and days to go through photos, at their leisure, and share with the group. That means they all collaboratively decided this was the perfect gift for the gannenet, without my input or opinion.

And while I was annoyed that they didn’t include me, I was livid that they didn’t include my son. Further proof that he was never fully integrated into the group, further isolating and infuriating, further defeating and depressing.

I decided not to hold back though in my frustration, writing in the group exactly how awful it was for them to forget to include us in the present. I let them know that it was indicative of their lack of inclusion of myself and my son, and that I would not be participating in the group gift. And I wrote this all in English. Screw them, let them copy and paste into Google translate for once.

And suddenly, these Mommies and Daddies know English! I got a flurry of apology messages, mostly in English, about what they deemed an oversight.

An oversight is when I’m excluded from the Whatsapp group in a class of 38 kids. Not including me in the Whatsapp group for 6 children is intentional. Their apologies are too little, too late. They all speak English and yet, not once during the entire year, did any of them try to speak to me in English. And that’s just shitty.

Maybe it’s the time of year (I was never a camp person) or the heat. Or maybe I wouldn’t be so defeated by the school system and the gan experience if the situation in Israel weren’t so frightening. Maybe this is my coping mechanism for what’s been going on these past few days.

I don’t know why this is hitting me so hard.

But, Mom, Dad, after 10 years living in Israel, I just want to leave.



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Choosing a Gan Chova in Jerusalem

This morning, I posted the following on my personal Facebook profile:

“Six intensive weeks. 8+ ganim visited. 10 gannenot, saayaot, machlifot and bat sherut grilled both in person and over the phone. Countless of parents that I know and don’t personally know called and interviewed. Finally, in the wee hours of the night, we made a decision and signed Sivan up for Gan Chova for next year. It was as intense as applying to college. Now I’m going back to bed. Thanks to the countless of people who had tremendous patience with me during this process, especially my husband – I drove him to eat dessert!”

And then I promptly fell into the deepest sleep I’ve had in literally six weeks. I felt like an intense weight has been lifted from my shoulders and now I just hope that my daughter will get placed in her first pick.

I’m blogging about the process because it has been such an intense couple of weeks in my home, and I’m hoping maybe my experience will help other Anglos living in Jerusalem who have to go through the process of selecting and registering their children for Gan Chova.

Gan Chova is kindergarten that – usually – is public and run by the municipality of the City you live in in Israel. Our Gan Chovas are run by the Jerusalem municipality, although don’t bother trying to use the English site to actually register your child for Gan Chova. Personally, I hate that Gan Chova is not attached to the school you plan on sending your child to in 1st grade. I prefer knowing that my Kindergarten is attached to the elementary school where I want to send my children. I have no idea if that has ever been something the Ministry of Education would consider changing but I would certainly make a case for why it’s important to not have these Kindergarteners have two stressful life transitions: first to an independent Gan Chova from pre-school and then again to a new school for Kitah Aleph (1st grade). But I work in PR and Social Media, so really what do I know?

Since Gan Chova is public school, for the most part, you have a number of options to select from in your Ayzor (district). You get a list of ganim in your neighborhood based on your religious affiliation. We were looking – again, for the most part – at Gan Chovas that are Mamlachti Dati which is roughly translated as “Orthodox observant or Religious National.” We were interested in Mamlachti Dati since we are Modern Orthodox and we are only considering Mamlachti Dati elementary schools. That being said, there is a Mamlachti gan Chova we also looked at, considered and really liked, for multiple reasons that would have been good for our child.

We live in Arnona and so I looked at schools in Arnona, Armon HaNatziv, Baka, and Mekor Chaim area. Most of the ganim I looked at were listed in my Ayzor, some were not. When it’s time to register, you get three options. You have to put in 2 options but can leave the third blank if the first 2 options are in your Ayzor. I believe if one of your first two options are not in your Ayzor, then you must select a third option in your Ayzor.

Over the course of six weeks, I literally ate, slept and breathed finding a suitable Gan Chova for my child.  I created a mental criteria with a score for all of the positives and negatives of each gan. I spoke to parents at the pool, in the nut and spice shop, at the supermarket, on the street, at the post office, in shul, on the phone, at Gan drop off, at school pick up for my older daughter. I attended every Open House listed on the site for almost all of the Ganim I was looking into and when there was a Gan I considered that didn’t have an Open House, I called the Ganenent and asked when I could come meet her and look at the Gan. I posted questions on Facebook and read and weighed each response. I sent personal messages to people on Facebook I didn’t know who wanted to tell me things privately about Ganim they didn’t like. I asked friends to introduce me to friends who have had experiences at Ganim in the area so I could speak with them about their personal experiences. I spoke with the schools where I am hoping to send my Kindergartener for First Grade and asked which Ganim in my area send to their school. I only received the list from one of the schools but it was enough to help me narrow my choice. I made sure, during Open Houses, to speak not just with the Ganenet but with the Saayat (assistant) and the other parents considering sending their children to that particular Gan. I toured both inside and outside each facility. I looked for the bomb shelters, observed the children during play time and meal time, spoke with the Ganenet about experience with food allergies and made sure to ask the ratio of boys to girls and the number of children to staff members. I asked about Gan trips and other enrichment activities, I asked about their preparation for Kitah Aleph and their philosophies about learning vs. play in Kindergarten. I asked about Tzniut (modesty) and dress code for girls, how they approach Tefillah (prayer) each morning and the role of girls during Tefillah. I badgered my Mother and husband each time I learned something new about a Gan and was close to making a decision. I spoke with other parents at my daughter’s current Gan to make sure I also choose a Gan where she would have friends – both girls and boys – so the transition to a new place would be easier. And, most importantly, I spoke with my daughter’s current Ganenet to make sure I understand her needs in a school environment and how she works best in a Gan situation.

Phew, right?

And then I made the charts and I weighed all the pro’s and con’s of each Gan and the lists grew and grew. In the end, I had narrowed it down to two very good options in Baka but selected one over the other based on a call I had with a parent of a child currently in that particular Gan Chova whose child also went to Gan with my daughter last year. Her personal testimony about how the Ganenet works with her son – who in personality is similar to my daughter – helped us make the decision to select that particular Gan.

Now we wait to see where the municipality will place our daughter and hope she will be placed in our first choice, and that her friends will also be placed there along with her. We won’t know anything for a couple of months.

The purpose of this blog post though is to share a couple of observations that I had during this intensive process: So, here are some things to consider when looking for a Gan Chova:

1) Facebook – Think carefully about things people post on Facebook, especially if you do not know that person. There was one Gannent who received a particularly scathing review on a Facebook group and I know multiple people who automatically didn’t even consider looking at that Gan because of one testimony from one person they never even met. Give every Gan a chance before making the decision. You could be crossing off a really good Gan that might work for you and your child, based on feedback of a complete stranger. My daughter was at a Gan Chova in Baka a couple of years ago and we did not have a good experience. I always prefaced that we did not have a good experience with that I’ve heard things have improved, and that I recommend people go and meet with the Gannenet themselves to formulate their own opinion.

2) Speak to Other Parents – This might sound like you being a stalker, but literally stand outside the Gan at pick up if you can’t find anyone you know who has a child in the Gan you are considering for your child. The best thing to do is speak to parents whose children are currently in the Gan you are considering. They are really the best people to speak to because their children are in the Gan right now. Sure, you can speak to parents who have sent in years past, but it’s also really good to get the impressions from parents who are dealing with this Ganenet every day. Things change from year to year: new staff members, pregnancy and birth that has the Ganenet out for a couple of months, etc. so you’ll get a better impression from parents.

3) Speak to your Child’s Gannenet – Consult with the person currently in charge of your child’s education as she/he knows things you might not know about your child: how they react to discipline and structure, personality with staff members, how they interact with kids, if they are shy/sensitive in a school environment, can they sit during circle time, are they immature or mature for their age, are they ready for an intensive learning environment or would it be better for them to spend another year with a lot of free play, other sensitivities from sound to smell to light, etc.

4) See the Gan, Meet the Gannenet – It’s so important to go and observe the Gannenet and look at the facility. I immediately crossed off two Ganim based on the fact that the facility was way too cramped to handle the 35 kids that were crammed into the room. If the yard was just dirt and slide with no other toys and/or outdoor play area. I ranked another Gan higher if it was a newer facility with clean bathrooms and an upgraded play area with jungle gym, sand pit and plenty of outdoor toys. I watched the Gannenet closely as she greeted children in the morning, responded to those that came to interrupt her while she was speaking with parents, saw how children responded to her as they came into the room. I watched how she interacted with her support staff, and how they in turn interacted with children.

5) Religious Aspects – Don’t be surprised if the Ganenent is not someone from your own religious community. I’ve found that most of the Ganenot from the Mamlachti Dati Ganim are more “observant” than we are in our home. I grew up with a Chazan and a Chazanit leading the Tefilla every morning. I’ve given up on that ever happening in a MAMAD Gan Chova in Jerusalem and until there are some Open Orthodoxy Gan Chovas in our neighborhood, this is going to be something I would categorize as “to be taught in the home.”

6) Special Needs – My daughter has food allergies and so it was very important for me to be able to work with a Ganenet who has experience with children with food allergies. I did visit a Gan during meal time where there was a child who qualified for a special Saayat because he has food allergies and I was really surprised to see not that the child ate on a separate table by himself with just the Saayat but that they were seated facing the wall! Meal time is such a important social interaction time period for children and while I understand how dangerous it can be for a child with anaphalaxic food allergies to share forbidden food, there is no reason he needs to face the wall and not at least be involved in the normal interaction that takes place at Gan during meal time. I’m hopeful that the seating arrangement was a one off that day.

And if you can recruit a friend to join you in this process, that will make it a little less stressful since you’re in it together! My friend Tami was the perfect person to visit Ganim with since she has more experience than I do when it comes to Gan Chova, and she made it fun!

This is a long enough blog post but I hope some find it helpful! What has been your experience with Gan Chova in Jerusalem? Let me know!




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Finding myself again


Last night, I walked into Bug at the Hadar Mall, in search of a Bat Mitzvah gift and a new pair of headphones for myself. I go through a lot of headphones for work, especially once my kids get a hold of them. I really like the Skullcandy brand, even though I’ve already gone through a pair  of Rastafarian style, bright green headphones. I grabbed a pair of Skullcandy headphones in pink and black for the Bat Mitzvah girl, and the ones pictured above for myself.

At the check out counter, the sales guy helping me asked if this pair of Skullcandy Inked, neon yellow, grey and black headphones were for my son. I laughed, told him that my son was only two, and that these were for me. He stared at me in shock. Literally, stared.

I couldn’t figure out what was so offensive to him about my purchase. Was it my color choice? Do women only select “female” colors, like pinks and purples?  Perhaps the packaging featuring a tattoo skull and bones seemed like an odd choice for a religious woman in her late 30’s, wearing a wig and beret, a jean skirt and tights. Was I too old for such a “young” pair of headphones?

Mostly, I wondered, did I stop being cool?

I spent the majority of my single 20’s getting to know myself. It took a decade, but I finally figured out who I was. I became comfortable in my own skin, and I enjoyed my own company.  I had hobbies and interests. I loved going to movies alone and preferred foreign films to big budget action flicks. I worked out daily, weekly with a trainer, and barely missed a boxing class. My bookshelf groaned with a variety of novels, memoirs and philosophy books from Kierkegaard to Kundera. I had different buckets of friends: Bowery Ballroom for a Black Keys concert with Julie, Sunday afternoon NFL with Jeorjie, Shabbat dinner at Cousin Neil’s. Beer and hockey with Melissa at Dive 75, margaritas with Tommy, a press contact, at Rosa’s, Ulpan and cupcakes with Rob. I took guitar lessons with my friend Mark, and listened to some incredible ambient object music created by my friend Zeke, I dated, a ton! I rallied for Israel at the UN and experimented with Indian cuisine. I planned dream trips to Barcelona and Scotland, and took my nieces and nephew to the swim club in the summer. I wrote fiction stories about the Jewish enclave of the Upper West Side, and blogged about every single aspect of my life (including annoying food pictures). I collected black boots and rock t-shirts, never missed my monthly facial, and fell asleep listening to Radiohead or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  I formulated opinions and views, and argued and defended everything from religion to taxes. I was a liberal thinker in some aspects, and conservative in others. I kept my politics to myself, but never missed voting in an election. I read Out and The Atlantic, coveted my Michael J. Fox cover of George magazine and scoured the 75th street Flea Market for vintage prints. And I dreamed, about the parts that were missing from my life: a family. I imagined how much better a trip to Paris would be with a man I loved, or how I would cook Indian food for my children (and they would eat it!)

Thankfully, my move to Tel Aviv brought me closer to my amazing husband. And, we have been so blessed in the eight years of marriage, to have three healthy, beautiful children. I threw myself into the role of wife and Mother, co-provider and homemaker. I’ve spent eight years trying to figure out this whole in-law thing (that’s a whole book!), and living in a Country with a culture foreign to my own. I’ve nursed and weaned three children, survived first grade, summer vacations, and making Passover by myself. Sadly, I’ve also experienced too many wars, missile and terror attacks to count. I’ve drifted apart from old friends and made new ones. I stopped writing and blogging, using whatever time not dedicated to my husband, children, home and job, to sleep.

And in my zeal to become the best wife, mommy, and homemaker, I lost myself. I tried to be the person I thought the ideal wife, mommy and homemaker should be, and in the process, I gave up the person I had spent so many years becoming.

And now it’s time to find myself again. I know that the new me won’t 100% resemble the old me, but I’m really looking forward to melding the two together.

So, if you’ve seen me at school pickup lately, you’ve probably noticed some differences. I’ve been going through some changes. You might have noticed that I have been inconsistent about covering my hair, or that I’ve been wearing a touch of makeup. You might have missed me at book club, or noticed a change in the tone of my Facebook posts.

I’ve embarked on a new journey of self discovery, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this road will take me, and to the woman I hope to become. #fitby40




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Old ladies at the gas station

This week, my husband and I took our 18 month old son out for breakfast. It was rare for us to spend a quiet morning together, the girls settled at their schools, and my cleaning person busy stripping the beds and scrubbing the floors after a necessary extermination to get rid of a horrible ant problem. We decided to walk a couple of blocks to a restaurant behind the gas station in our neighborhood. It’s really a great brunch place in the middle of a complex that includes a burger joint, pizza place, the nuts and spices shop, a supermarket, and some office buildings.

We meandered, watching our son enjoy his rare freedom outside of his stroller. His belly leading the way for his feet to catch up, a smile plastered across his face, his gap teeth on display. He tripped and ran forward, chasing the brown birds already looking for some shade from the sweltering Middle Eastern sun. We approached the restaurant and were met by a waitress, her genuine smile and youthful skin made me pull self consciously on my sweat stained bandana and adjust my over-sized sunglasses over my baggy eyes.  She gestured to the outdoor tables, discretely hidden from most of the foot traffic but with a generous view of the gas station attendants already hard at work on the morning flow of traffic. We chose a table out of the way of people, unnaturally tilted by the slanting of the concrete to keep water from flooding the restaurant and flowing down the mountain to whatever streams swell in the winter at the base of Jerusalem.

As our server hauled the highchair over to out table, I placed my feet on one of the wrought iron legs to keep the table steady for our breakfast. We ordered brunch fare: cold decaf coffee and freshly squeezed juices, Mexican shakshuka and French omelettes. A child’s meal that came with butter and milk drenched biscuits that I had to hide beneath the napkins and out of reach of my baby’s excited hands. His dairy allergy always at the forefront of my mind, I plied him with french baguettes schmeared with avocado spread and tuna fish. My husband and I listened to the 90’s track piped through speakers, the Breeders cannonballing through the last splash. Our conversation ebbed and flowed smoothly, while our hands danced through the motions of having breakfast with a toddler. A swipe of food off the nose with one hand while lifting a glass of juice to take a sip. Blowing the heat off of slightly overdone scrambled eggs before allowing his chubby fingers to shovel food into his already stuffed mouth.

The meal ended quickly, and we signaled our server for the check, glancing at our watches to see how much longer until the baby’s morning nap. I felt relaxed and at ease for the first time in ages, living in the moment as opposed to dwelling on the pressures of work and life. I apologized to our server for the trail of food that generously littered the floor beneath our table, a treasure map with the X squarely beneath my son’s highchair. She laughed it off with a wave of her hand, and thanked us for the tip. I did the Mommy count before leaving a restaurant, making sure I had all the baby paraphernalia we constant travel with, before catching up with my husband. He pushed the umbrella stroller gently with one hand while keeping pace with our son, whose gait slowed slightly by the later hour and the food in his belly. The baby’s gap toothed smile wider than ever as he navigated the walkway like an impish drunk.

I almost missed them, my gaze trained forward on my son. But something caught my attention, and I stopped to glance in their direction. Perhaps it was the motion of this cushioned swing that seemed out of place in the gas station. The large brown swing belonged in a private garden, next to a pond surrounded by deer sculptures and pebble pathways. They swung gently, back and forth, back and forth. The old ladies at the gas station were related, a familial resemblance obvious by the bone structure of their noses. The younger one controlled the motion of the swing, pushing off with one brown sandaled toe. Alone, she would have blended into the crowd, camouflaged by her coffee colored pants and tan shirt.  Her wrinkled skin and blunt haircut with reams of grey creating an ashy hue that came from drugstore boxes of hair dye. Next to her, sat the woman that held my attention, her feet dangling inches off of the sidewalk. Her hair was washed and blown dry to resemble cotton candy fresh on a stick, while her white clothing were clean and pressed. You could tell someone was taking very good care of this 93 year old woman; she was clearly very loved. Her facial expression was downright blissful as she enjoyed the rocking motion of the swing, and the chocolate ice cream cone in her hand. A shmudge of chocolate the only colored line on her alabaster face, she licked her treat without a care in the world, or the slightest self consciousness of a dirty face.

“May I take your photo, please.” I asked.

“No,” came the curt, quick response from the caregiver.

“OK, thank you,” I said, and smiled.

I hovered for a moment and then continued on my way, devastated that she wouldn’t allow me to take a picture. To capture a moment that I fear words would never be able to fully express.

I caught up with my husband, oblivious to anything but our child, and gestured behind me at the ladies at the gas station. Stop, I told him, and look. Take in this moment. This is what I want out of life.

And as the missiles resume in the South of Israel, and my children wrestle on the floor over a silk scarf they both want, as I take a step off the scale and sigh at the number, as my spouse shakes his head over quarrels with the neighbors, and as we look at our bank accounts and our expenses and wonder how it will all get paid, as we prepare for another 100 degree weather week and one car, as we wonder if we are heading for another War with our enemies, as we think about how in vogue Anti-Semitism is throughout Europe and the US, as we watch our children reach milestones, as we dream of summer cottages we can never afford, and family vacations, and Shabbat meals with friends, and attending events in Israel without thinking about security, or how our children will one day serve in the army, as we navigate our way through all of life’s stresses and aggravations, and life’s uncertainties and life certainties.

I think about the old ladies at the gas station. Swinging gently on the swing, having lived a lifetime. The cold, sweat taste of ice cream on their lips at 10:00 a.m., and not a worry or care in the world.

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Why I stopped writing

corbis_rf_photo_of_blood_pressure_checkIf you follow my blog you must realize that I haven’t had an updated blog post in more than a year. I know all too well that I took a hiatus from my blog and it’s been a real challenge.

Before I talk about why I’ve stopped blogging, let me tell you why I’ve decided to start writing again. This week, my Doctor started me on blood pressure medication after a grueling two month period of testing. My pulse and blood pressure is very high for someone my age, and it’s also extremely sudden for me to have high blood pressure. I’ve had a rough winter, health wise, and had strep twice and numerous upper respiratory infections. I had my tonsils removed when I was six, so strep has been a nightmare. My doctor discovered my high blood pressure during my first bout with strep. I spent the past two months going for multiple tests: EKG’s, renal artery ultrasounds, eye exams, urine exams, blood tests. All to rule out a secondary reason for high blood pressure that could be a reoccurance of pseudotumor cerebri that I had back in 2004 to a tumor (g-d forbid). The tests all came back normal, which means that I have developed sudden high blood pressure. And we don’t know why. I’ve recently dropped 30 kilos since my baby’s birth, I don’t eat too much salt, and I exercise. I called my Aunts and cousins to find out if there’s a family history of high blood pressure on my Mom’s side and was told that my maternal Grandmother’s side of the family tended towards high blood pressure. Hitler took care of my paternal side of the family, so I can’t really call around there. But, genetics aside, it’s baffling that I should suddenly have high blood pressure.

Until I thought about it. About the stressful year I’ve gone through: from last summer’s “war” to the fall’s terror attacks in Jerusalem. Combined with work stresses, lack of sleep, and some family issues, and there are days where I find it hard to take a breath. And through it all, I’ve had no outlet. Sure, I have my DH and my best friend to talk to, but sometimes those conversations just aren’t enough. And, in the past, I had my writing as an incredible outlet for my stress. I would open up to my WordPress platform and write the things that were on my mind and when I would hit the publish button, I felt this tremendous sense of relief.

But I stopped writing for an entire year. And what I’ve discovered is that I lost my outlet, and my health has suffered for it.

So why did I stop writing? Primarily, I stopped writing because I felt torn about the things I was sharing with the ethernet. Mostly, I felt that I didn’t have a right to share personal stories about my children with the universe. I mean, I don’t ask them permission to blog about their cute stories or challenges, and that’s not fair. It’s not fair of me to decide to share their personal lives with strangers. I spend a lot of time reading other Mommy bloggers and sometimes, I’m surprised with some of the stories they’ve chosen to share with the world. I wonder how their words will one day impact their children. As we all know, once it’s out on the internet, it’s there for life.

I thought about all of the bullying I endured as a child. I remembered some of the nasty names I was called, some of the horrible experiences I went through (getting locked in a 7 minutes in heaven closet with a guy I had a crush on while the rest of my “friends” laughed and held the door closed), or when YK at Camp Moshava drew a giant picture of a cow with an arrow towards his ass with the words “Shira Cowass” in big letters and then dropped the picture into my lap on a Shabbat afternoon. Then I thought about those experiences living on YouTube or Instagram, and it’s too horrific. For me, those horrible stories live in my memories alone. In today’s day and age, those videos and images are posting on social platforms for the world to see and laugh at. I thought about what would happen to my children if some of the stories I shared about them on my blog were used as fodder for bullying. How terrible I would feel is an innocent story would be used to tease or ridicule them, all because a nasty classmate Googled my blog and read some of these stories. I wondered what would happen if a potential employer read my blog and saw some of the challenging posts and deduced that it must be a character flaw and decide not to hire them.

So, I decided to stop blogging about my children. I already had a policy to not blog about my spouse, and suddenly I wondered why anyone would bother reading what I was writing. If I wasn’t writing about my children or my relationship anymore, what would I write about? I don’t blog about politics, and there’s really only so many blog posts I could write about challenges living as an ex-pat in Israel.

And so months went by and my fingers would itch when I sat down at my computer and the words would race through my brain and I mentally composed blog post after blog post. I mentally wrote about my feelings running with my children to our sealed room during missle attacks, and my heartbreak when the three kidnapped teens were discovered murdered. I mentally blogged about my decision to carry a cell phone to shul in Jerusalem during the fall, when terrorists were using their cars as weapons, or stabbing strangers in our city with meat cleavers and knives. I mentally blogged about cash flow problems and the astronomical cost of living in Israel. I mentally blogged about the challenges of an immigrant parent with a child going through first grade, and all the ways I was failing her. I mentally blogged about the Israeli Taxes Authority, who decided that I owed them money and went into my personal bank account and withdrew almost 3,000 shekels. This put us into minus at the bank and, for the first time in my life, I had to put our groceries on a payment plan. I mentally blogged about the sudden death of my beloved Grandmother, and how I spent 10 weeks crying every Friday night after dinner. I mentally blogged about new recipes, the latest Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook, and my secret desire to open a pop up restaurant. I mentally blogged about food allergies in Israel, and the struggles we’ve been having trying to figure out how to feed our children.

But I never put these words to paper. I never wrote them down in public or in private, and they went through my mind and were forgotten the next morning. The emotions remained bottled up inside.

So, here I am. I’m tired. My choices for blood pressure medication included a side effect that included swollen ankles or one that made me tired. So, I opted for the one that makes me tired. I figured, I’m already really tired, I might as well keep my skinny ankles.

And, I’ve decided along with continued diet and exercise, and watching all the sodium that I eat, to resume writing again. I’m still going to avoid blogging about my children, and my spouse, but I’m going back to writing about my feelings. My experiences as an immigrant Mother living in Israel. As a small business owner trying to grow my business and find fulfillment in my career. As a foodie, who loves to experience new and exciting cuisines that Israel has to offer. And as a crusader, as I work to improve Israel’s attitude towards food allergies.

I hope it will be the catharsis that I so desperately need, and I hope you’ll do me the honor to follow me on my latest journey towards a health life.




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