She's doing great!

Myla is doing awesome!  She is CHUBBY.  She's gained about 6 pounds since coming to live with us almost two months ago.  She smiles a lot, sleeps a lot and drinks a ton of formula.  She is an easy baby.  I know I've said that about all of my babies but I think she might even be easier than the boys.  She likes swinging, sitting in her rainforest bouncer, being pulled up to stand and she is a tummy time champ.  We all love her so much!


A few weeks ago, I was in my local grocery store.  The one that I avoided for more than a year after Maxie died.  I hated being in there because I'd been in there so many times with Max.  I worried about running into the people that ran his daycare (because I'd seen them shopping in there before he died).  I also dreaded running into my friend, the grocer, who had a little girl about a month after Maxie was born.

I wrote about finally biting the bullet and going there.  It is really the best and most well organized market in our area.  It is also the closest - like walking distance.  So, for the past few months, I've been going there instead of the all of the other options.  I ALWAYS see my grocer friend and I avoid him like the plague.  The first few times, I politely said hi but then immediately darted off before he could make conversation with me.  But, then I just started to see him and go down whatever aisle he wasn't in.  Since he is almost always in the produce section, I had to make my away around without being wherever he was - which was awkward.  Finally he got the hint and started avoiding me too - and then he moved on to giving me dirty looks and shaking his head whenever he saw me come in.

Of course I understand why he thinks I am the A-hole.  We used to always catch up on our families together and then one day I disappeared, and when I reappeared, I wasn't the same friendly person.  The truth is that he is not the only one who is a victim of my unfriendliness.  I went from being a very outgoing and sociable person to MUCH more of a cold introvert.  I can't take chit chat anymore.  I'm looking out for my own well-being.  I'm just not that nice anymore.  And, honestly, that's ok with me.

But, I hated the dirty looks, eye rolls and head shakes he was always throwing my way - and, I am not sure why but I finally decided to explain to him why I ignore him.  About a month ago, I walked right up to him and said, "You may remember that my son was born about a month before your daughter.  You and I always used to talk and catch up about the babies.  I am sure you have noticed that I am not as friendly as I used to be (author's note: UNDERSTATEMENT).  My son stopped breathing and died when he was nine and a half months old while he was at daycare.  Catching up with people who had babies when I did makes me too sad, so I avoid them.  I am sorry."

He looked me right in the eye and said with a big smile, "I was wondering what was going on.  Ok.  That makes more sense.  Glad to know it."  Hmmmmm.  Not "I'm sorry".  Not "How effing horrible".  Not "Oh my god!  You and your poor husband"......Not ANY kind of acknowledgement at all that I'd just told him of the greatest possible tragedy that I could ever imagine suffering. Just a look of relief that he finally understood what had happened.  And, I know I caught him off guard.  And, I know that he meant well (did he? I'm saying I "know" it because that is what I've been told).  But, I don't know - sometimes I wish I'd just stuck with being unfriendly.


I couldn't come all the way to Israel without visiting Maxie's Forest. I made the trip there Friday with my friend Tali, her Fiancé Asaf, and my cousin Leslie. It took us a while to find because the entrance is not obvious. We drove in and out of several roads in the Ofer Forest area of the Carmel before finally arriving in the familiar parking lot.

It's odd to me, in a way, that a place where Max never was and never will be can feel so full of Max. When people ask me if I feel his spirit there, I hesitate, because that isn't what I feel. I think what I feel instead is the love of everyone who supported us in creating this monument to him. I also deeply feel an immediate reaction to the wording we used on his pilar - which is the same as on his gravestone (and tattooed on Ted's arm). It gives me an immediate sense of HIS knowing that I am there and missing him. 

I don't LOVE Maxie's Forest. I hate it. I hate having a memorial to my son. It just is what it is though and considering the fact that I can't change what is - it is tremendously meaningful to have this destination point in his honor.  It gives me the opportunity to stand back and reflect on him and my life without him. It's not unlike visiting the cemetery - except for that instead of being surrounded by death, it feels surrounded by hope. The pillar marking Maxie's name is surrounded by pillars marking other names - people and organizations and communities who contributed to replant the Carmel Forest after a raging and tragic fire that happened only a couple of months after Maxie's birth. Tree by tree, people contributed to replant a mighty forest that was actually once my backyard. It speaks to me in so many ways - like how each breath, each act of kindness, each cuddle with Mo, Myla and Ted, each day that has passed since losing my beautiful boy, has slowly begun to rebuild a new spirit inside of me.

We've been here during a very hard time this summer. The images, stories, and remnants of war are everywhere. We've travelled up and down the country clinging (as all Israelis and Palestinians have been) to a very fragile ceasefire. We haven't heard one siren. I haven't had to visit the bomb shelter once. But I got here after such a tense time. The nerves of everyone around us are frayed and their hearts are all broken. Their dreams of peace seem to be crushed. Maybe there is no way out of this - they are finally saying. A much different tune than was being sung than during the first period that I lived here in 1994 after Oslo had infused the nation with hope.  

I remember in those days, we'd walk from my Kibbutz, Beit Haemek, to the nearby Arab town of Kfar Yassif all of the time. It was cheaper than taking a cab into the nearest city (only 5 minutes away) of Nahariya. The surrounding Arab villages soccer teams would regularly practice on our kibbutz field and there were tournaments in the area between the Arab and Jewish teams. I'm told the kibbutz members don't really visit the village anymore. How it was is the way it should be.

On our way out of Maxie's Forest, I saw a big truck and took a video for Mo. I realized that it was a KKL - JNF truck (the organization I work for) and got excited. It looked brand spanking new, which likely means it was donated after the 2010 fires.  The truck pulled over and the ranger came out to meet us.  "I work for JNF-USA", I told him in Hebrew. "I know", he said - his accent very Arabic "I could feel it", he said with his eyes smiling at me. We spoke to him for a while. His name is Jamal and he is a Muslim Arab from a nearby village - a place where massive rioting had been taking place only days earlier.  Jamal explained that he is a ranger who takes care of this part of the Forest - Maxie's part. He knows every inch - every tree - every bump in the road.

Thanks to my friend Tali, Leslie and I got an impromptu tour in Jamal's truck up through the reforestation area. He spoke to us of his family, the fires, and his work in the forest. Its comforting somehow to know who is looking after Maxie's trees. 

The expectation that I will find internal peace among those trees is unrealistic at this stage. I've been too hurt, I am too heartbroken, I am too sad to feel deep peace today.  It will be a long time before I can visit that place without completely breaking down. But each year that passes, each visit here, each breath I take, brings me a little closer.  I still feel very hopeful about that.

I also believe that it is unrealistic to think that Israelis and Palestinians will find peace anytime soon.  What I do know is that there are people who are willing to look beyond the religion of their neighbor on both sides of the fence.  Meeting Jamal, listening to him to tell the story of the forest, having him take us through with so much enthusiasm reminded me of the Israel that can be and maybe will be once again.  In the meantime, there is a lot of healing to be done.  Peace takes time...

Israel calling...

It's my sixth day in Israel! My seventh day away from my kids. I miss them so much. My arms are aching to hold them. I've been trying to distract myself because it's making me really sad.  It's the teeniest, tiniest amount of time away. It really begs the question - how have I lived this long without Max?

Being in Israel is really special for me. I love it here. Say whatever you want about the place - fact is, it's beautiful, it's diverse, it's complex, and it's endlessly interesting.  Nowhere on earth do I feel like I am fully myself in the way that I am here. And there is no cult of personality when it comes to views on politics, religion or anything else. There are Orthodox Jews and Secular Jews and everyone in between. There are Christians, Muslims, Ba'hai, Druze and many more. It is a nation of immigrants- Russians, Ethiopians, Asians, Africans, Europeans, Latinos, North Americans. There are those on the left, those on the right, and those in the center - and the closer you get to the borders, the more you meet Israelis who really hold on to the hope for future peace. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has a thriving openly gay community and annual pride events. Women are respected and well educated here.  Honor killings are illegal. I'm not saying there aren't issues - there ARE. I'm saying it's a place where anything is possible. It is a democracy in a place where democracies don't exist. You may not like the government (I certainly don't always like Israel's or my own government), but it is the government that has been elected by it's people. To be a Zionist Jew in the United States often feels like it means to support Israel - right or wrong. To be a Zionist in Israel means to believe in the dream of a Jewish homeland for the Jewish people in our ancestral land. I choose to be an Israeli Zionist - even though I'm only an Israeli in my heart. I can disapprove of whatever I want - but until I move here, my opinions are just opinions.

But what I really want to say is that every time I'm here, I'm moved in a different way. This time I was moved by a plane of over 300 new immigrants, including over 100 singles, who landed at Ben Gurion airport on Tuesday morning. We were there to greet them, along with hundreds of others.  The plane landed and bus loads of Olim (immigrants) pulled up one by one to joyful family members and friends, tearful embraces, whole families of t-shirts exclaiming "Welcome home so and so!", israeli folk music and dancing and flags waiving through the air. Unless you're a Jew or been in Israel yourself, you may not be able to grasp why this invokes so much emotion in me.  I'm tearing up thinking about and it feels so awesome to be crying for something I find incredibly moving instead of crying for something completely devastating.

My cousin Leslie and I at the ceremony for New Olim (immigrants)

I've thought about coming here many many times to live forever throughout my life. I wanted (still want at times) to be able to be a pioneer, like the early community builders. I thought about it a lot most recently after losing Max. To be a parent whose lost their child can feel so isolating. Sadly in Israel, I wouldn't have to look far to find a community of grieving parents.  I've found that for the most part, when I tell my story to Israelis- they don't try to talk me out of it. They don't think that losing my child is something I need to get over. They know exactly what it means to carry around a gigantic burden with you everywhere you go - and to me, that's refreshing. No pretending. No false nonsense. Real life. It barely gets more real than all this.

Off again

Saying goodbye to Mo just now sucked. He's gotten to the age where he knows that if I'm walking out the door with a suitcase, I'm going away for a while. All morning he was clingy - he's always clingy - but this was extreme. I feel clingy too.  His new nanny (more on that later) wanted to sit him down for breakfast and I found myself asking her to please give us more time. Leaving him is painful. And, it brings up so much of my missing Maxie. Living without Mo and Myla for the next ten days will be so hard. Living without Max for the rest of my life isn't even doable. 

And, honestly, I can barely stand listening to parents get all weepy about their kid that is going to camp for a week or away to school. In my estimation - those parents are LUCKY! Their kid will come back or they will go visit - the dramatics are wasted on me. But I can remember being at a wedding away from Maxie for a long weekend, and I couldn't concentrate on anything. I just needed to be back with him. And here I am, sitting in my taxi cab, getting weepy over leaving Mo and Myla for ten days. Sometimes I want to slap myself.

I had such a good time in Israel in February.  The experience actually brought back a huge piece of my old self. I am hoping that this trip will be similar (or totally different but with a similar outcome). I'll miss my family - but they'll most likely be here when I get back. 

Off to the Holy Land! Hoping this cease-fire lasts and that we can just enjoy the week!!!

Not scary in the way you think...

I'm pretty sure that I've mentioned that I am going to Israel this week.  If I haven't - now you know.  I am going for 10 days - for work.  This trip has been in the works for several months.  I've been planning it since before I knew about Myla, and before there was a war (or rather, "active operation") going on in Israel/Gaza.  Yes, I am still going.  No, I don't really have a choice.  And - to answer your question, I have mixed feelings about it....maybe for the first time ever. 

Don't get excited - I am not going to talk about politics.....much.  Suffice it to say that I believe that the Israelis have a right to defend themselves, that Palestinians deserve much better leadership than a terrorist group (Hamas) that doesn't value human life, and that the death toll is staggering and I believe that the death of ANY human being is a tragedy - especially a child.  It is a mess and so tragic and I can't see a way out of it from either side.  Rabbi Sharon Brous wrote an article recently that reflects my feelings pretty accurately.  I don't really want to get into a political argument about it though.  I just know it is on your mind, hearing that I am going to Israel.

I've spent significant time in Israel during some scary times - during both the first and second intifada, in the period when Rabin was killed and the Oslo agreement fell apart, and so many other periods of unrest and attacks.  It felt MUCH MUCH scarier to be living in Israel during times when suicide bombings were happening daily - on buses, in restaurants, on beaches, in pubs - especially considering these were the places I frequented.  In the back of my mind, there was always a nagging feeling that I shouldn't feel as safe as I did.  In 2004, I lost a friend in a suicide attack.  He was killed along with most of his family while sitting in a hummus joint in Haifa - the city I used to live in - where things like that don't generally happen.  If I didn't learn then - I certainly have learned since that you should never just assume that bad things happen to "other" people.  Bad things are random - they can happen to anyone. 

Frankly, I am not that scared about the bad things happening to me while I am away.  Today there are non-stop rocket attacks - but rockets have been falling on Israel's Southern region for years and I have continued to visit.  All of the bus stops are bomb shelters.  There are sirens warning of impending attacks.  There is time to try and get to a safe place.  This somehow feels less scary to me than those random suicide attacks.  I say all of this as a tourist.  I have no idea what living in that situation feels like and I can only imagine that having sirens going off all day long while you frantically gather up your children and bring them into a bomb shelter feels complete unbearable.  My point really is that while I am a little nervous about all of that - it isn't really what's making me feel uneasy about this trip.   Because I AM feeling uneasy.

When I was pregnant with Max, a board member of mine in LA was trying to convince me to staff a trip to Israel soon after his birth.  I actually considered it because I had NO idea how hard it would be to leave my child just to go to work each day.  I am always grateful that I decided not to go on that trip.  It would have been SO hard.  Max was only 3 months or so, I was still breastfeeding (which would have meant pumping on the bus) and I was so attached to him that I think I would have been dysfunctional anyway.  Since his death, I've thought many times about how much I would have regretted going on that trip and missing a week of his life.  And yet, here I am - leaving Myla, a 3 month old, for a whole 10 days.  We've only had her for a month and the bonding is in full swing.  I adore her and we fought SO hard to bring her home.  I just can't believe I am leaving her.  It feels irresponsible and scary.  Yes, she will be in the care of people (nanny and babysitter) that I trust - but so was Max when he died.  I'm not saying that I think she is going to die.  I am just saying - my buttons are being pushed - HARD.  Leaving Mo is hard enough (because it just is - I miss him when he sleeps - I love having him around all of the time), but this is different. 

Am I scared about traveling to Israel?  That is what people keep asking me.  I guess the honest answer is: a little.  But, SO MUCH MORE SCARY to me is letting go and being away from my family.  I can't wait to come home.

Myla - 3 Months Old

Our Myla is three months old today! She eats every two hours except at night (thank goodness), when she generally only wakes up once. She looks like she's put on a lot of weight since she came home.  She loves hanging out in her swing, her rainforest jumper and napping all wrapped up.  She has a very admiring older brother, who gives her lots of hugs and kisses. She's super mellow and cute and we love her a lot.