Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I am moving

Hello, the three people who follow my blog :-)

Just wanted to let you know I am moving. No hard feelings, Blogspot, I just like the layout of Wordpress better.

Please continue to follow me here: http://mothershavefeelingstoo.wordpress.com/

Thanks,
Elana

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pregnant women are like old people


I’m at the point in my second pregnancy when it’s difficult for me to fall asleep because I’m so encumbered by my belly bulk. And it was as I was desperately attempting to achieve some sort of comfortable physical position last night that I had the following epiphany: pregnant women are like old people.

And though I’ve never been old, I’ve heard and witnessed enough of the elderly to know that we really do have a lot in common besides for troubled snoozing.

Frequent Bathroom Trips
During the day, in the middle of the night – pregnant women and the elderly need to know the quickest route to the bathroom. This includes when we’re at the shuk, in the mall, or sleeping over at someone else’s house for Shabbat. The bathroom in any environment is probably the most important landmark, and needs to be available at all times. If the women’s stall is occupied in a restaurant, we will not hesitate to knock on the male stall and avail ourselves of it if it is free.

Slowing Down
The older you get, the slower you get. I’m not talking about those feisty exceptions, God bless ‘em, I’m talking about a general rule. Age takes its toll.

And so does belly bulk. The more pregnant you get, the slower you get. Whereas during the first six months of my pregnancy, I was still power-walking to work, a mere two months later I am waddling my way around the kitchen and holding my back as I straighten up from picking something up off the floor. My outings now consist of going to the shuk everyday (five pm and later, because I can’t stand the heat). The shuk is literally two minutes from my apartment. But if you walk like I do, slow and with a stroller, and adhere to crossing only in the pedestrian crosswalks, which I do, because of said stroller, it’s about a five minute walk. Then I walk about for as long as I can until even the ebbing evening heat does me in, and I return home.

People Stand Up For You on the Bus
In the early stages of my first pregnancy, it took me a while to get used to the idea of people offering me their seats on the bus. But as I progressed to the eighth and ninth month, I had no problem taking their seats; in fact, I expected them to be offered. Second pregnancy – my reluctance to take people’s seats faded as soon as I started to show. And though it does feel strange to be sitting in the front of the bus with all the older people, in my heart I know that I’m in the right place.

Loss of Inhibition
They said that when people get older, they lose their inhibitions and say things that they wouldn’t have said when they were younger. They tell it like it is, because life is too short to be spent beating around the bush.
Likewise, as the pregnancy wears on, your patience wears thin. When someone attempts to get ahead of me at the fruit stand in the shuk, I dramatically turn my protruding belly towards them and loudly say, “Excuse me!” If someone puts their hands on my belly without asking, I look down at their hands, then up at the person’s face, and incredulously say, “Excuse me!”

And just like most people cut older people some slack, same for pregnant women.
-----
Okay, okay, okay. Pregnant women are not exactly the same as older people. Here are a few differences I can think of:

Hot and Cold
Pregnant women are HOT, and older people tend towards the cold side, which is why they love Florida and sweaters and central heating. I, on the other hand, would be most comfortable living in an igloo.

People’s Comments
As far as I’ve experienced, no one comments to an older person, “My, you’re looking especially withered today” or, “You’re hair has gotten whiter since the last time I’ve seen you!”
On the other hand, when it comes to pregnant women, people feel this inexplicable need to comment on their appearance. “Wow, you’re really getting there!” or “You get bigger every time I see you!”

If I could control the world, I’d choose to have people treat pregnant women like older people in this regard.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Get your hands off my belly


I know I’ve written about this before, but I can’t hold back from addressing this issue again. Maybe if I word it differently, it will be like a weight off my chest? Don’t know, but here goes:

For some reason unbeknownst to me, pregnant women seem to become the property of the world.

While no one would dare comment on a non-pregnant woman’s weight gain, or dare to touch her stomach, these inhibitions seem to vanish when it comes to pregnant women.

Some of the comments I’ve heard throughout both my pregnancies: 

“You’re huge!”

“Are you going to make it through the summer?”

“Are your legs swollen?”

While the offenders are not ill-intentioned, they’re still offenders.

Because I don’t want anyone commenting on the size of my stomach, at any point in my life. I don’t want anyone laying their hands on my stomach unless given express permission to (which I don’t know why I would grant, unless the person is my husband or a doctor).

I want people to treat me the way they would treat anyone with a health condition. To only speak about it unless I broach the subject. And since I rarely broach the subject, I’d like people to follow my cue.
Unfortunately, because certain people do not take their cues from me, I’ve simply stopped talking to them; in my mind I know that they mean well, but in my heart I cannot take their constant comments on about my stomach, my health, my state of mind.

Friends are different. Friends are friends.

Close family is different as well. They have their rights.

But, please, non-friends and family members – I know you might be happy for me, I know you might be excited and all a-jitter – but just stop. Stop reaching for my belly, and stop commenting on it. It’s really none of your business.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Tisha B'av: Do mothers have time to mourn?

Tisha B’av is coming up.

It’s been looming in the back of my mind like a horrible, dehydrated monster for the past few weeks.

Why? Well, for most people it’s the most difficult fast day of the year. But when you’re nine months pregnant? Forget about it.

Our rabbi said I have to fast until I can’t anymore.

Which means that if I feel sick or any weird movements in my stomach, I can eat and drink. Reassuring, but still daunting.

Especially because I have a one year old baby to take care of, adorable in everything she does but a handful nonetheless. And did I mention I’m nine months pregnant?

So yes, Tisha B’av has been on my mind.

 In previous years, it was on my mind for different reasons. I used to prepare for it by listening to shiurim or reading through Megillat Eicha. On the day of, I used to watch Holocaust movies or clips on Youtube about the eviction from Gush Katif.

This year, I haven’t done my prep work. Not that I haven’t wanted to, I just haven’t really had the time or energy. And on the day of? It’s just not that plausible that my daughter will allow me to sit back and watch movies because she grasps the heaviness of the day.

Nope, not gonna happen.

So I will need to focus on her. And I feel guilty for this. I want to be mourning with the rest of the Jewish world, mourning the loss of a utopia unimaginable, the Jewish lives that were destroyed and the suffering that our people went through for so many years.

And yet, I’m prevented by doing this because I'm a mother, because of my physicality, by the fear of fasting and the impact it will have on my ability to care for my daughter. Not to mention the fear of going into premature labor. Which even though I’ve joked that I wouldn’t mind at this point, in all seriousness, no one really wants to go into fasting-induced labor.

But I need to get over it.

I need to accept that at this point in my life, there’s a new way of serving God for me. And it means that I don’t need to feel guilty for putting my daughter before everything; this is my role as a mother, as a Jewish mother. So even though I can’t mourn as I’ve done in the past doesn’t mean I’m a bad Jew. On the contrary, I can feel proud for getting myself and my daughter through the day in one piece.

The trick is not just to know this, but to believe it.
-----
Epilogue: I ended up being sick the whole day and was allowed to eat. Then I felt guilty because a large brunt of the childcare fell on my husband. (There's always something to feel guilty about.) Thank God, he's an amazing faster and is always ready to help.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Insensitivity II: Pregnant people (the flip side)

 I read Bridget Jones’ Diary years ago. It was possibly one of the only books I’ve read which has a movie counterpart that I liked better. But that’s not the point. What I remember from the book are two things: first, every diary entry begins with her current weight, which is brilliant. (Also, not the point.) Second, the way she refers to married people. She calls them “Smug Marrieds.” (Yes, this is the point.)  


           Why is it so? Why do married people get a bad rap?





            Because some married people say incredibly stupid, insensitive things.

            When I was single, I actually started keeping a list of stupid things married people said to me. (I figured, if I'm being insulted, might as well have a sense of humor about it.) I don’t know where the list is now, nor do I remember many of the detailed barbs, just a few:

            Smug Married to Single Me: “You have no idea how good it feels to be married.”

            Smug Married to Single Me after a break-up: “Don’t worry, you’re not that old.”

            Smug/Stupid Married to Engaged Me: “I’m so happy you’re getting married, I couldn’t figure out what was taking you so long.”

            Generally, I’ve come to accept that people say stupid things. It happens to the best of us. Moreover, stupidity can be more easily excused than insensitivity.

            But at what point do you make the distinction?

            At what point do you say, I know everyone says stupid things at one time or another – but this is downright insensitive, and you should know better!

             I found myself contemplating this since I bumped into two random friends last week - friends of mine, acquaintances of each other. Both women were around my age – one pregnant, the other not.
            And as we all paused for the socially acceptable "stop and chat" to hear what's new with the other, the pregnant woman started to complain that maternity clothes are soooooo expensive in Israel.

            Like I said, people say stupid things. If she said it once, fine. It happens.
            But she said it a number of times. And not in a sensitive way. She said: “Who can afford to have babies in this country? Why is everything so expensive?” And on and on.

            Now listen – maternity clothes in Israel are expensive (and nowhere near as nice as the clothes in America) - she is 100% correct.
But wake up – you’re talking to a single woman who would kill to be married, expecting and paying through the nose for maternity clothes - and you’re complaining!

            At what point did people decide they can say whatever they want with complete disregard for other’s feelings? At what point did we become so enamored with the right to express our own feelings that we forgot that other people have the right not to be around stupid, insensitive people?

            I was embarrassed for this pregnant woman, who was, albeit unintentionally, spewing complaints in front of the most inappropriate audience. She had no idea how bratty and insensitive she came off. Which is unfortunate – because there is a time and place for  pregnant women to complain and express their feelings. It’s to others in similar situations, or to a really good friend who despite being single will understand, or to your husband. Not to people who you bump into to on the street who you’re sort-of-friendly-with-but-not-really.

            So I understand Bridget Jones' brilliantly coined phrase, “Smug Marrieds.” I just wonder when will these women open their eyes and ears and stop giving the rest of us Nice, Sensitive Marrieds a bad reputation?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Insensitivity I: Pregnant people

               You would think that anyone who has been pregnant or has known someone who was pregnant would know that there are certain things you just don’t say to a pregnant woman.
                 
                You would think.
                
                Unfortunately, you’d be wrong, just as I was.
                 
                 In both my first and current pregnancy, I’ve been amazed and astounded at the stupidity that comes out of people’s mouths. While I understand that 99% of these people have no malicious intent, I’m not sure how much of a consolation it is telling myself that they’re just stupid. After all, that means there are a lot of stupid people out there.

                I am more forgiving of men. Men, while they might have survived their wives’ pregnancies, never having experienced it for themselves, can be cut some slack. However, I’ve found that men are less likely to say offensive things than women; men know that walking on eggshells around a pregnant woman is the way to go. Women, especially older women, feel like they can say whatever they want. Probably because they went through it themselves.

                I would like to refute this assumption. They SHOULD NOT say whatever they want. They should keep their mouths tightly, tightly shut.
               
Here are some of the things I’ve heard throughout both my pregnancies:

                “You’re huge!”

                “Wow, it looks like it’s hard for you to walk.”

                “Are you in your ninth month?” (Not even close.)

                “How are you going to make it through the summer?”

                “What size are you wearing now?”

                “Are you having twins? No? Are you sure?”

I reiterate, the people who say these things are mostly a. older women and b. not ill-intentioned. So what makes them say these things? No idea. 

Don’t they remember what it was like to be pregnant, to feel like a specimen on display, “Here is my growing body for all to see!” Don’t they remember how bad the weight-gain makes you feel, how yes, it is hard to walk but they don’t need to comment on it, they just need to send a nice smile your way? Don’t they remember how it’s sweet when someone asks, “How are you feeling?” not when someone says, “You don’t look so good. How are you feeling?”

Obviously they don’t remember.

             I’m really just waiting for someone to say something to me. It will be the wrong day, the wrong time, the right amount of hormones making me bloated and prone to crying, and I will say: “I’m huge because I’m pregnant. What’s your excuse?” or “I can lose the weight once I give birth. You’re stupid, you’ve got to live with that forever.” I will dish out whatever bile the situation calls for, because I have been being filled up with it for two consecutive years. Woe unto that person.

                And then I will go home and cry, until the hormones clear up and I come back to myself again.

                And when I’m older, I will remember what it was like to be pregnant. And pregnant women around me will reap the benefit of my sensitive silence.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Facebook forums for mothers: helpful or hurtful?


Before I gave birth to my first child, a friend joined me to a Facebook group for mothers living in Jerusalem. It was really helpful before I gave birth – you know, first pregnancy, no shortage of things to worry about, and here I had a forum of experienced/going-through-it-at-the-same time mothers at my beck and call. I asked about stroller comparisons, doula recommendations, whatever worry was on my pregnant mind. While it was comforting to receive almost-immediate answers from a variety of different mothers, it’s only in hindsight that I realized that none of the answers ever made me feel definitively sure about anything.
            A mundane example– I asked about the difference between two strollers. I got all sorts of responses – but the truth is, most of these women don’t live in my neighborhood, where the streets are narrow, some don’t have cars, some don’t care about the fold, some don’t care about the price, etc. So their answers were nice, but weren’t really relevant, and in the end, my husband and I decided by ourselves (we chose the Baby Jogger City Mini and love it. But I digress.)
The point is, I felt good knowing that there was a place I could turn to where all my questions could be answered, or at least acknowledged.

            After birth, however, was a different story. At home on maternity leave, my laptop was my lifeline to the world. And because I hadn’t yet figured out that it’s possible to turn off FB notifications, I was receiving notifications from this group about every five minutes – it’s quite a popular group – and reading every question and comment because that was all I had to do. (Once I realized you could turn off notifications, I availed myself of this option. I've been much happier since.)
            Some of the posts were interesting or good to know. I learned how to make homemade almond milk from one mother. I learned about a sale on diapers from another. But the majority of posts, I couldn’t care less about. Why did one mother post about Matisyahu shaving his beard? Why were there a few mothers who insisted on posting pictures of their babies – no offense, but we all have cute babies, and I much prefer to look at mine than yours. Besides, that’s what regular FB is for. The combination of irrelevant and off-topic posts started to get on my nerves.

            But more than annoying, the group had morphed from a pre-natal comfort into a post-natal worry-creator! 

For example: my husband and I disagreed on sleep-training. He was all for Ferberizing - letting the baby cry in order to fall asleep on her own. I did not want this! So I posted for advice about sleep training on the group, got many responses, mostly falling into these categories: “You’re the mother, you get to decide.” “Crying is awful, don’t do it!” “We let our babies cry, I hated it but it worked.”
All very nice, supportive things to say – but how exactly does that help me resolve the conflict with my husband? My husband, who irritatingly enough, was more experienced than I in the beginning of our crazy parenthood trip from a slew of nieces and nephews, wasn’t pulling ideas from thin air. While my Baby Whisperer book advocated middle-of-the-road methods, he had a book that contradicted everything my book said! (It’s amazing that by chance, we both ended up with books that fit our personalities.)
            In any event, the “support” I received from the mothers in the group didn’t make me feel better; it made me feel worse. So what that I had all these mothers agreeing with me, or telling me it’s okay? It only made me more mad at my husband – and the fact that some mothers did it and it worked didn’t make me feel any better hearing my baby’s cries in the middle of the night. (My husband and I ended up compromising, mostly because my hormones were no match for his arguments or experience, and yet, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open, we did let baby cry for a few minutes – but not full-fledged Ferberizing.)

In short, I quickly realized that my participation in this group was not productive. 

            Not only was it unproductive, it was actually becoming harmful to me. I’m not talking about getting high blood pressure from annoying posts. I'm talking about jealousy-inducing posts, or FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, posts (for more on FOMO: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/business/10ping.html). Here are some examples:

 "I used to get up an hour before my baby so I could exercise. Now, my baby started waking up an hour earlier - when am I supposed to find the time to get back into shape?”
            
            Maybe I’m just a bad person, or maybe you can understand me a little when I say that I spared no sympathy for this woman. Instead, I looked at myself with a critical eye and said, “This woman has been getting up early to exercise every morning to lose her pregnancy weight. If you would get up early, maybe you could lose the weight, fatass.”
            
            Clearly not productive.

“My five week old slept for eight hours straight! I’m so well-rested!”

            Good for you! I’m about to prop my eyelids open with toothpicks because I haven’t slept in weeks, but I’m SO happy for you!      

            “My baby is so good to me. I flew with her when she was three months old and she only kvetched for about two minutes - I just had to brag!”

            Seriously? I take my baby to the doctor’s office and in minutes the walls of the waiting room are resonating with her wails. I feel really good about myself right now.

            Or, “We’re getting together in the park Wednesday morning. Who’s in?”

            Okay, people are allowed to get together. But the fact is, I’ve been dying of boredom and would love to meet and hang out with other mothers, but I work in the mornings.

Not only are these posts jealousy-inducing, not only do they inflict upon me serious self-loathing, but they make me question the goodness of my character (since I feel like I want to smack the people posting)!
            Still, I know that my feelings about this group are not shared by all. Clearly. Otherwise, the questions and comments that mothers post wouldn’t receive 10-100 comments. By mothers who are obviously nicer, more patient or more sympathetic than me.  
           And all the mothers mean well, even when they post things that can cause jealousy and that I personally find insensitive, annoying or TMI. (“My four month old has had diarrhea for the past three days and has been puking up everything. What should I do???” Call your doctor, genius. “Found dead moth parts in my baby’s mouth yesterday. Eeeeeew. Just had to share.” I really wish you hadn’t. "I think my IUD might be infected!" I'm really sorry for you, but TMI, TMI!)
            And I think that for most of the participating mothers, the group affords them a connection with others. After birth, I thought I was the only woman who experienced loneliness, since it’s not something that people really talk about. But belonging to this group and seeing the ridiculous amount of posts and comments has shown me that it’s not just me – motherhood can be lonely. And I shouldn’t blame these mothers for wanting to connect virtually with each other, since in real life, getting out of the house and meeting up can be difficult. I especially shouldn’t blame them for creating an online community that they seem to enjoy – it’s my own problem that it’s not my particular cup of tea.          
            So why don’t I just leave the group? Since I’ve turned off my FB notifications, I don’t read half the posts – and when I do, I get annoyed, as you see. So instead of complaining about something that hundreds of mothers find useful, why don’t I just ship out?

            Two reasons:

            First of all, because there really are useful posts. And this is what the group is about! Lending support to mothers (“I have to go back to work and am dreading it. How have other mothers dealt with this?”) and providing useful and helpful information (“I think my five month old has bedbugs. What should I do?”).
          
            The second reason I stay in the group is because: What if…?

            What if my baby is pooping and puking and I can’t reach my doctor? (I’d probably call my mother-in-law.) What if I’m making a Shabbat meal and need a dessert recipe? (Not likely – I love kosher food blogs and trust the ones I know much more than I trust mothers I don’t know.) What if I need to decide on my next stroller (Amazon and Baby Gizmo reviews – love and trust.)
            Okay, it seems like I mostly don’t need it. But what if I do at some point? What if I need moral support when I have a second baby? What if I need advice on how to divide attention between two children? I’m sure I will. What if my baby really does get bedbugs (please God, no!)? And while I have online and in-person resources, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that this group that has grown so irritating, so jealousy and worry-inducing, is there should I need it. And hopefully I will then appreciate it for all its worth. But until that time comes, I don’t plan on turning my FB notifications back on.


            

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Like baby, like mother


           When I came home from the hospital after giving birth, I was struck by the helplessness of the tiny creature nestling in my arms. Completely, utterly helpless. The only two things she knew how to do were suck and cry. Her needs consisted of food, warmth, cleanliness, sleep and love. The most basic, inherent human needs.
            And it was my job to care for her. To comfort her when she cried, to discern an inflection in these cries which would tell me if she was hungry, needed a change, had gas, etc.
            I became physically tired, but also emotionally – it hurt so much to hear my baby cry! Calmer, veteran mothers told me simply, “She’s a baby. Babies cry.” I could not accept that, so I frantically tried to discern what she wanted, keeping bottle, clean diaper, spit-up cloth on hand at all times so I could figure out what the problem was and address it asap! My franticness, though, just made me more and more addled. And the more addled I got, the harder it was for me to fall asleep (when the baby slept, of course. Sleep when the baby sleeps, these veteran mothers said.). And the harder it was for me to fall asleep, the more tired I was, and the more addled I got!
            Oh, the circle of life. It lasted about a month, but it felt like forever. So I had two choices: either calm down, or go crazy. I preferred the second, but my husband strongly supported the first. (Since neither could convince the other, we ended up compromising.)

            It’s only now, that baby is nearing the benchmark of a year, and my wits have somewhat returned, that I look back with twenty-twenty hindsight and realize that besides for taking care of baby, my needs consisted of the following (in priority order):
           
  1. Sleep
  2. Eat
  3. Communicate with my husband (about the baby)
  4. Shower

Yes, I’m embarrassed to say that shower was last. But hey, clothes aren’t even on the list. In that first month, I really had no other needs, desires or wants besides for these basic, inherent human ones.

Exactly like my baby!

Monday, June 11, 2012

My forgotten friend and me


By now you must know, I don’t have much sympathy for people who get married and fall off the face of the planet. Let’s redefine “planet.” I don’t mean people who get married and stop going to parties every Thursday or Saturday night; I don’t mean people who get married and stop going to Shabbat meals with 20 people – these meals are generally made by singles, and if married people aren’t invited, I can’t hold it against them. I’m not even talking about people who get married and move out of Jerusalem – I can’t expect them to travel in all the time! 

                But I can expect them to pick up the phone. The people who don’t pick up the phone are the ones I have no tolerance for. Those that don’t go out at all, even with small groups of friends or one-on-one, because they feel the need to be home with their spouse every night. People who become completely absorbed in their spouse, so that they make efforts for his or her friends and family, but neglect their own. I understand it might be in the name of shalom bayit, of wanting to please your new partner, hey, maybe it’s even in the name of love. Whatever it is, it’s no excuse. (And might I add, though I’m no psychologist, it seems unhealthy.)

                Where has my passion against these people come from? Obviously, my own experience! Interestingly enough (to me, at least), I wasn’t burned by a married friend when I was single; it happened once I was married myself. And perhaps because I took such efforts to keep in touch with my single friends once I got married, the burn stung so much more.

I was going to use this as an opportunity to vent. To go through the whole sordid story of my friend who got married and dropped off the planet and blahblahblah.


            But I’ve decided to take a different path.

I’ve decided that instead of focusing on the hurt this friend has caused me, should look inwards. I’ve patted myself on the back that after I got married, I maintained contact with my single friends. That I went out at nights despite being tired, made phone calls and Shabbat meals and put forward my strength when I felt that I had no strength left in order to maintain friendships.

But have I really been all that great? Have I really made the efforts I think I did? What about old roommates of mine who I never talk to? Sure, we were never great friends to begin with, but we did live together. We knew the intimacies of each other’s lives the way only roommates do. Have I been in touch with them?

What about my friends in America? The time difference makes it super-difficult for me to call since I’m exhausted at night, and besides, during the day there they are working. So I don’t talk to them as much as I’d like. But maybe I can make more of an effort?
And I, who pride myself on hosting friends for Shabbat meals – can it be that in my two years of marriage, I’ve never left someone out? Never made someone feel bad that I invited him and not her? 

I’m only human. Of course I’ve made mistakes. Of course I’ve hurt people unintentionally. So instead of focusing on the hurt I’ve endured from my forgotten friend, maybe I should focus on being more considerate myself. On not thinking that I’ve got a great handle on prioritizing and I know how to maintain relationships and blahblahblah. The truth is, pregnancy and post-partum adjustment were hard for me; maybe I think I was making monumental efforts to be in touch with friends when in reality, they were minimal efforts but only seemed monumental to me because each phone call and each outing after birth was a personal victory.

But like I said, I’m only human. As humans, we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and generally vindicate ourselves in our minds. We blame the other person. And even though I do believe my forgotten friend is in the wrong, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take this opportunity as a wake-up call to examine my own actions.

Did I mention I’m an orthodox Jew? :-) 

If not, I mention it now because what I’m writing might sound like mussar or even dogma, since the idea of examining your actions is pretty popular in orthodox theology. But I think that whether you’re religious or not, it actually makes sense. I can nurse the hurt I feel and let bitterness grow inside of me, or, to be trite, I can take the lemons life has offered me and add some sugar or Splenda, and have lemonade! Of course, easier said than done (especially in this country, where Splenda is scarce). 

But I think it’s worth a try.

By the way, I’m not advocating “turn the other cheek” theology either. I believe in the validity of hurt feelings, and that, if you can’t get over these feelings, confrontation is the way to go. Maybe this is exactly because I’m an orthodox Jew, and the Torah says, “Don’t hold a grudge in your heart.” Of course, the Torah also warns against hurting another person with words, so the words in these confrontations need to carefully thought out. But again – why be consumed by bitterness? You’re the only one who will suffer in the end (I say to myself).

Whether the confrontation works is a different story. In my tale, it didn’t. That’s what made it all the more heartbreaking. That’s why I've been haunted by this question of friendship, what it means, what happens when people grow apart, and so on. That’s also why I’m trying another tack. Trying to use this opportunity to grow as a person. Whether I succeed or not will be a different story.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

LaLa land

         
In the aftermath of my realization that couples with kids are not welcome at mixed meals – i.e., meals with singles and couples without kids, I am left with a dilemma.

Since I’ve been married (about two years), I’ve invested a lot of time in my single friends. Pushing myself to go out in the evenings when tired (pregnant and tired I mean. I've been pregnant for 16 out of the past 22 months), inviting them for Shabbat meals (which is really no effort, but it entails a decision to be conscious and aware when planning my week), phoning to say when I'd be in their neighborhood for Shabbat (by my in-laws) and planning to meet up - you get the idea.

But after having been "dissed" by one of our regular Shabbat guests, who made a meal, invited many of our friends but neglected to invite us, a slow, creeping fear arose in my mind.

Have I been investing in friends who don’t want to be invested in? 


Let me explain. I’ve taken pride in the fact that I’ve kept in touch with most of my single friends; but maybe this pride is just foolishness. Maybe I’ve been foisting myself upon these friends against their will! What else can explain the one-sidedness that I’ve realized, upon deeper contemplation, exists in many of my friendships? The one-sidedness of me making phone calls, initiating conversations, creating “excuses” to hang out while not experiencing the same in return?

Let me explain further. While I was insulted by my friend’s exclusive Shabbat meal, I generally don’t expect return meal invites. I’m not in the business of inviting friends for Shabbat so I can get a free meal back. As I mentioned in my previous post, we invite a lot of people over who we know will never invite us back. Why not? It's not because we're not pleasant (at least I don't think so). No, mostly it's because our guests are yeshiva boys, or people who don't have much money, or friends with roommates and small apartments who rarely, if ever, host. When we invite friends from other neighborhoods and they do invite us back, we usually can't go because it's too far for me to walk (remember, pregnant pregnant pregnant!)       

So when I say that I don’t get the same return from these friends, I'm not talking about meals. I'm not talking about birthday or baby presents. I'm talking about effort. I'm talking about being the one to initiate something; a phone call, a Facebook message, an invite to hang out or to come over on Shabbat - not for a meal, but just to hang out.     

In the past, I was never insulted at being the initiator - I've been on the other side, the single side, the side where you think to yourself, "It's her (insert name of married friend) job to call me; she needs to prove that she hasn't fallen off the face of the planet. I'm the same me, it's her that's different." So I took it upon myself to initiate, and didn't think twice about it, until now.

I mean, it's been two years! Shouldn't my friends have gotten the hint by now that I haven't disappeared, that I still like hanging out with them, that I'm still the same me?

And I worry. If they don't understand by now, will they ever? Or will they continue to make Shabbat meals and not invite me (and my husband)? While my husband is in parenthesis, he should probably be bolded and highlighted. He's the reason for this, after all. Him and my baby girl. (Please read sarcasm. I obviously wouldn't give up my husband or daughter for all the friends in the world.)

My conclusion must be, I suppose, that I'm living in LaLa Land

Of course I've changed in the eyes of my single friends. I have a husband and a kid, with another on the way! So even though I feel like the same me, to outside eyes, I'm in a different world. And let’s be honest – even though I might feel like the same me, I don’t do the same things I used to do. While during my first pregnancy I made plans to go out on Thursday or Saturday nights, for drinks (Diet Coke for me), to movies, to parties – now that I’m a mother and pregnant, I'm usually home at nights. Sure, I make an effort for birthdays or special occasions, and I try to supplement my evening absences with phone calls, but that’s not the same (especially since I'm not much of a phone person). I’m not the friend who they can call to be a “wingman” or to go see the latest movie. And sure, I try to make plans during afternoons or on Shabbat, but most people work in the afternoons, and are not always home for Shabbat. My schedule often isn’t in sync with those of my friends. And out of sight, out of mind. Why should these friends make more than the occasional effort to adjust to my schedule?

The answer is obvious: that’s what friends do, they make efforts for each other. And since that’s not my experience, I’m forced to say that either a. We were never such great friends to begin with or b. That’s life, and people grow apart.

I can work on accepting either of the two. But it’s this clincher that kills me; the realization that in all likelihood, they'd like to let these friendships fade and I'm stubbornly holding onto something that they just want to release. That maybe, we have nothing in common anymore. Maybe I should let go. Give up gracefully. Maybe I've been so busy trying to hold on to these friendships, that I've missed the writing on the wall - the writing that says they're just not that into me. Our friendship had a nice run, now it’s time to move on.

Maybe.  

Or maybe I've just experienced a few consecutive discouragements, but shouldn't let them get me down. Maybe I should keep on trying. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pregnant in Jerusalem or The Tale of Thirty Pounds

We found out on Chanukah. I must have taken ten home pregnancy tests since we started trying, only two months before. And believe me, these home pregnancy tests add up – almost thirty shekels a box! Nevertheless, I peed on a stick, and into a cup (depending on the brand) until we coerced that tenth test into giving us the answer we wanted: two thin pink lines instead of one.
                We lit candles that night in acknowledgement not only of the miracle of Chanukah, but of this strange new miracle happening inside of me. Of course, I didn’t actually believe I was pregnant. The second pink line was quite faint, and I hate to have my hopes dashed. Better to doubt and be pleasantly surprised than to believe and be disappointed. But my husband, the great optimist, was certain. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t make him come with me to a lab to get my blood tested. Only after the private lab results came back positive was I convinced.
Pregnant, how exciting! Newly married with a baby on the way! While my husband always (for all of the two months that we were married) treated me well, suddenly I was a queen. No more sweeping and sponga for me on Fridays before Shabbos – he took on the job with gusto. Of course, at four weeks pregnant, I was quite capable of doing these things myself; but why turn away kindness when so lovingly given?
We basked in our secret and stayed up at night going over the minutia of my experience – how did I feel, was I nauseous, tired, hungry? Nauseous, no.  Tired and hungry, yes. Oh was I tired. Oh was I hungry. I went to bed at eight every night and after ten hours of sleep woke up tired. Then I ate from morning till night. I ate and ate and still could not be sated. Or maybe it was just the exhilaration of eating whatever I wanted that kept me going and going. No more counting calories and carbs; I had an excuse to eat like I’d never eaten before.

At three months we had a scare. A separated membrane, the doctor said. Of course, he said it in Hebrew, and a “separated membrane” is the literal, not the medical translation. I still don’t know the medical term in English. But whatever it was, it got me a week of bed rest and no exercise for a month.
Now, I’ve never been the most fit person, but I did have a regimen of walking and jogging since high school, and yoga since before my wedding. When I got pregnant, I vowed to continue my regimen. Not only that, I added a pre-natal exercise workout that I found on YouTube. Don’t scoff – this video was 30 minutes, and it was intensive. It included exercises such as “rock the baby,” “baby-go-round,” and “listening for baby.” I loved it. Every other day I woke up early in the morning so I could do it before I went to work. On the days I didn’t do it, I walked to work – a brisk, 45 minute cardio workout.
But the separated membrane threw a wrench into my plans. I tried to eat less but had already gotten used to my gluttonous ways. Still, I vowed I would not be one of those women who, when you look at their wedding albums, you do about five double-takes between the album and the woman, not believing that they are one and the same.  I was beautiful at my wedding, and damn it, I wanted to be beautiful after my baby.
So once I got permission from the doctor to exercise, I resumed, but found it was very difficult to kick the habit of stuffing my face. And let me tell you, after years of being on low-carb diets and only eating bread on Shabbat, every day when I bit into a fresh roll from the bakery beneath my work was a little bit of heaven. So I guess you might say that my determination in the face of pregnancy weight was ambiguous; I wanted so much not to gain, but on the other hand, if not now, when?
My confidence in my ability to eat without gaining weight was compounded in the first few months –despite eating bread every day, I didn’t seem to be gaining weight! And I didn’t actually show until my fourth month, though I thought I was showing since my second. I took pictures of myself standing sideways with a hand over my belly to accentuate the little bump that appeared (but could be easily hidden by loose sweaters); during my seventh month I looked back at those pictures and laughed. You call that a belly, I thought.  In my ninth month I looked back at my seventh month pictures and thought, just when I thought I couldn’t get any bigger…

My doctor never weighed me. I was surprised. Rebecca, my pregnant friend in America, told me her doctor weighed her each visit to make sure she was gaining enough but not too much. But that’s the way doctors in Israel are. They give you a few terse sentences of instructions (never actual explanations), and that’s it. You’re on your own for the rest. My doctor, he was one of the best at keeping things to himself. But I wanted warmth, explanations, reassurance and more explanations. After all, a first pregnancy only happens once, and after hours of reading the dos and donts on the internet, the bottom line is always “Consult your physician.”
So I consulted my physician, asking questions that I thought were quite important, wondering why he didn’t offer the information without me having to ask (I was na├»ve in the beginning, and didn’t realize that Israeli doctors are secret-keeper). For example, can I eat fish? Well, duh, not only can I eat fish, but I should eat fish, twice a week. Good to know, I thought, all the while smiling in my sweet American way. Sometimes I wish I could be like my Israeli husband, who says what’s on his mind. I wish I could have said to this doctor, “Don’t you think this is important information for me to know? What else should I know that you’re not telling me?” Of course, Rebecca told me her doctor emphatically told her DO NOT EAT FISH.
The one thing that Israel has is tests. Oh, do they have tests. Every few weeks I found myself at the main branch of my healthcare service, thankfully only a seven minute walk from our apartment. The way it works here is that your doctor tells you what tests you need, but doesn’t administer said tests. You go to a clinic of sorts and they deal with you there. You then return to your doctor with the results. It can get confusing. But that’s socialized medicine for you, and at least we didn’t have to pay through the nose for these tests. We did pay through the nose for our doctor though. We went private, idiots that we are. While my husband maintained that ours was one of the best doctors in Jerusalem, I maintained that if I wanted a tight-lipped secret-keeper, I didn’t need to pay five hundred shekels a pop for him (roughly a hundred and forty dollars).
Still, we paid and paid and paid, and I ate and ate and ate, and eventually we started seeing a decrease in our bank account and an increase in my everything. I tried to cut back, but by seven months I had trained my body to eat so much that it was just second nature.

Nursing will take care of everything, I told myself over and over again. Ha!

Once the baby is born, I’ll go walking in the park every morning, with baby in stroller. Ha!

Listen, there are some mothers who run marathons six weeks after giving birth. I’m not exaggerating; a friend of mine did it (and through a big effort on my part, I manage not to hate her). But most mothers aren’t able to do that, I discovered. I certainly wasn’t.
After 42 weeks, I gave birth to a 3.5+ kilo baby girl (about 8 pounds). And although everyone had warned me that I wouldn’t get any sleep once the baby was born, I didn’t really understand. You can’t really understand until it happens.
I actually did not sleep. Because I had issues nursing, a lactation consultant put me on a schedule of nurse, bottle-feed, pump every three hours. That left about an hour or so in between for just the option of sleep; usually I was too stressed to do so. So with nursing not being the savior I thought it would be, with subsisting on virtually no sleep for three months and thus not having energy for my power-walks through Gan Sacher, the weight didn’t come off.

                “Nine months to gain the weight, nine months to lose the weight,” my aunt reassured me.

 Except that I became pregnant again three months after I gave birth. Oops! My grace period diminished by 66%, my dreams of being one of those women that doesn’t necessitate five double takes between her and her wedding album photos are dashed. If I thought I was big during my first pregnancy, I had no idea what was in store for me with the second! In my seventh month now, I am basically carrying the weight of two pregnancies, since I didn’t have enough time or energy to lose the weight from my first.
But there’s something else I have this time around that I didn’t have before (besides the extra thirty pounds).I have a beautiful baby girl who lights up my life.
Cor-ny, I know! But it’s the truth. While of course I still want to lose weight (and yes, I’m planning a perhaps-delusional exercise/eating routine for post-partum that is sure to make a dent, if not an impact, in my aspirations), now at least I see the fruits of my labor, no pun intended. And while I have my whole life to lose weight, I don’t have my whole life to have more of these beautiful babies.
And hey, the second time around, we’re much smarter. I don’t have to worry that my doctor is a secret-keeper; I know all the secrets already.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Married people have feelings too

There’s an idea in the single community that once a friend gets married, he or she falls off the face of the planet. I know this idea very well – I believed it for a long time.

When I was single, if a friend of mine got married, in my mind I said goodbye. What did she need me for now that she had a husband? After all, a husband was the ultimate goal – once you achieved it, how could you possibly be lacking anything? How could anything else deem to find its way into your life when a husband, the sought-after prize that every girl dreams of, is meant to fill your life so completely?


Then I got married. And don’t get the wrong idea – my husband is great and I love him – but boy was I thrown through a loop when I realized that marriage had not magically transformed me into a self-sufficient, self-contained wife to the exclusion of all my other identities – friend, daughter, sister, colleague. I was still the same me, with the same emotions and idiosyncrasies, the same me that wanted my friends to be part of my life. Because, contrary to my previous notions, husbands do not create vacuums that suck out all else; instead, a husband is a wonderful addition to the already existing universe of your life. But a husband can’t replace girl-talk-friends, shopping-friends, going-out-for-coffee-or-a-drink-friends. Who else would I invite for Shabbat meals if not friends?

Not to say that I don’t understand how it can happen – how someone can get married and simply disappear. The beginning can be very overwhelming. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, budgeting (all the fun things you didn’t have to do while you were dating) plus making time to talk and have real fun (the way you used to when you were dating) all take enormous amounts of time and energy. 



Then there’s your husband’s friends and family – your world has virtually doubled in size, rapidly. So I understand how you could be overwhelmed and accidentally neglect those friends who worked so hard to organize your engagement party, mitpachat or bachelorette party, Shabbat Kallah and Sheva Brachot.

Not to mention if you’re working full time, which I was. Not to mention if you get pregnant very soon after being married, which I did. All these things mean adjustment, and so, the first year I was married, I found myself checking my husband’s schedule before planning coffee or dinner with a friend. I waited till he was on the phone before I made my own “just saying hi” calls. I had a new best friend, and it was natural to want to spend as much time with him as possible.  

But even though I now had a new center around which to arrange my activities, I made a point of keeping in touch with my single friends. Not from a place of superiority, i.e., “I feel so bad that you’re not married that I must shine my lovingkindness upon you.” Not at all. If anything, I was grateful to my friends for still hanging out with me, since I was very familiar with the feeling of “You’re married, why should I bother investing in you?”

A few friends of mine espoused this ideology. At least, I assume that’s what was behind the sudden one-sidedness of our relationships. Or maybe they thought, “Why should I bother with her, she might give me a few minutes, but ultimately she’ll be focusing on her ‘couple friends.’” Well, my husband and I do have “couple friends,” but why should “couple friends” and single friends be mutually exclusive? Whatever the reasoning, it felt like I was constantly chasing these friends; initiating phone calls, text messages, Gchats, Whatsapps, you know, utilizing all technological means available. Sometimes they responded, sometimes they didn’t. Usually they didn’t have time. When I texted one friend asking if she wanted to meet for coffee, she wrote back, “Sorry, too busy.” No offer of a rain check, no smiley face. Offended at first, I learned to laugh things like this off. What else could I do? I mean, everyone’s busy, but the point of friends is that you make time for them! 

Luckily, most of my friends weren’t like that. I called them, made plans to meet up, and we all appreciated it. After calling a specific friend a few weeks in a row “just to say hi,” she said to me, “I’m so happy – you haven’t disappeared!” I was quite pleased with myself – this was exactly my goal!

But as time moved on, it became more difficult to stay on top of things. Pregnancy made me nervous, it made me fat, it made me want to stay at home in bed and sleep, read, relax and spend quiet evenings with my husband while I still could (as veteran parents felt compelled to smugly warn me when they saw my protruding belly). Still, there was Shabbat, and that meant cooking, which I enjoyed, and having friends over, which I enjoyed even more.

We invited different guests every time, but we had our “regulars.” You know, friends of ours who lived nearby, who always appreciated the invite and who we appreciated having, so why not invite them and make us all happy?

I also remembered what it was like to be single and to have to worry about Shabbat meals. How an invitation can bring such a wave of relief. No matter how popular you are or how many friends you have, everyone appreciates a Shabbat meal invitation.

Then I had a baby. And let me tell you, being an overwhelmed new mother on no sleep is not the best recipe for a super-social person. 


Still, my friends surprised me by making meals that lasted us for weeks – I was touched by all the love and food people were throwing my way. I was also validated – all my efforts at maintaining my friendships had really worked – my friends were still there for me!

A month after I gave birth, we were back to hosting Shabbat meals. Shabbat remained a bastion of the old normalcy in my new “abnormal” life, and it remained the best and only time to leave the craziness of the week and to sit down in nice, spit-up free clothes with good friends and good food.

The week was a different story; my phone calls lapsed, and my going out ceased completely, except for short excursions to meet my grandmother for coffee. So I tried keeping up with friends through texts and emails. This way, I could maintain some sort of connection even though I wasn’t feeling up to talking. It took a few months, but I slowly started coming back to myself, adjusting to my new “normal,” and my phone calls increased, as did my going out.

But who am I kidding? I’m not the friend I used to be. How can I be? Pregnant again, with an infant at home, I’m exhausted by the end of the day and go to sleep early (except on special occasions, like friends’ birthdays, engagement parties, housewarmings, etc.). And once you don’t go out on Thursday or Saturday nights, once you don’t go to the Chanukah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut parties, the Wine and Beer Festivals, the big Shabbat lunches with twenty people, you begin to fade from people’s radars.

Maybe not your good friends’ radars. But there are those other people, you know, the ones you really like but for some reason the friendship never took off from the superficial level, but you still really enjoyed seeing at Shabbat meals, parties, barbeques and who you really want to get to know better?  Well, those people disappeared. Because my table can only fit a certain number of people, and when I had a choice of who to invite for Shabbat, I chose my closer friends, not to mention that my husband also has friends – so I never really got a chance to invite these other people, even though I wanted to. And they certainly were not inviting me. Because once you’re married, you’re not really singles’ table material. And with a kid? Forget about it.

I didn’t really understand this until a few weeks ago. One of our “regulars” never made Shabbat meals. And so, I never expected to get a return invite, which is fine - most of our “regulars” don’t make meals and we’re happy just having them over. Except that recently, this person did make a meal, and invited pretty much all my friends, except me. I was quite hurt when I found out about it (and how would I not find out about it – all my friends were there!). Even though most of the invited guests were single, there was a couple as well. And despite my best efforts at giving without expecting returns – well, come on, I’m only human, and I couldn’t help but think: Why did they merit an invitation and not us? When I vented about this to a different friend of mine, she said to me, “It’s not personal. It’s because you have a baby.”

The more I think about it, the more logical it is. Who wants a couple with a baby at their meal cramping everyone’s style? What if the baby makes a mess, cries, spits up, or worst, poops? Moreover, why should my husband and I be invited when we have each other, and there are other people who don’t have anyone? I understand these thoughts.

But it doesn’t make it less hurtful.

So yes, it is possible for married people to disappear, to fall off the face of the planet, to write-off their single friends – but single friends can do the same to their married friends. It’s a two-way street. I believe the main onus lies on the married; it’s our job to make single friends know that they are loved, wanted and that their worth is not determined by whether they’re married or not. But still, for all my single ladies out there – this is just a reminder that married people have feelings too, and we hope you give us a chance at continuing our friendships!