Thursday, February 28, 2013

Facebook, Photoshop & Friendship

I've been trying to gently bug Stella for weeks now about her upcoming birthday. Knowing that she didn't want to make a big deal of it, and that she might not be up to much with her treatment, I suggested different activities in the Yishuv. I consulted with Yarden.

I asked again.

I sighed.

And complained.

And whined.

But nothing seemed to work.

The woman wasn't budging.

So, on Tuesday morning, having given up on the make-your-own-ceramic night or the Women's-movie-night or the jewelry-making night, I did what I do when I get desperate. I went to Facebook. And I wrote a message to just a few friends to let them know that Stella's birthday would be on Thursday and that they probably wouldn't find out about it. She doesn't have her own Facebook account (Stella, Stella, Stella) and she wouldn't be publicizing it. I knew that her friends would want to send an email or call and be able to wish her a great day.

And then I left the conversation. When I returned awhile later, I saw that they had brainstormed ideas...they had been chatting among themselves and had come up with something brilliant. Something that would require absolutely no effort on Stella's part, but that would allow her friends to tell her how much we love her and how much we are thinking of her on her birthday.

The person who hatched the idea was so conscientious. She told the excited chatterers that she had to confirm with me that it was a go before springing to action. I knew Stella best, she said, and she wanted to make sure that she would like the idea.

I thought it was brilliant.

"Miriam," I said. "Go do your thing."

And within three hours - three hours! - of hatching the idea, there were 40 or more women converging on a grassy field in the Yishuv. Signs had been made, the photographer (aka Laura) was ready to shoot and discreet phone calls and emails had been sent. Now, obviously, not everyone who wanted to participate was contacted on such short notice, but we did the best we could. And we apologize for anyone who wasn't included.

And there, at 5 pm (a mother's absolute worst hour), we all raised our letters and yelled, "Happy Birthday Stella" into the lens. And then we giggled and went home.

And when Laura put the initial image up for the Facebook group, there were shouts of "But I wasn't there!" and "Darn, I missed it!" And I jokingly wrote that maybe Laura could just Photoshop those extra faces in.

And so she did.

And two days later, on Stella's birthday, the finished, gorgeous product was hand delivered to the Frankl home.

It is amazing to me what people who are full of love are capable of doing on short notice. It is amazing to me what the bonds of friendship can look like.

May the picture bring you strength in times of adversity, Stella, and propel you towards health with the love that it exudes.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Snow White and a Few Healthy Dwarfs

It was a bit harder this year than in past years to get into the Purim spirit. But we did our best. Yakir, 2, has been home with an infection in his mouth for a week. He's been screaming pretty much night and day (and since I now have the infection I can attest to JUST how much pain he was in). Nevertheless, last Friday, when the kids all dressed up for Purim in school, he managed to wake up in time and rally.

The night before, Josh came down with the flu, so it was a bit harder to get everyone off to school. However, he managed to get the tattoos painted on Yehuda's (aka Koby Bryant's) arm and the hairspray in Matan's (aka James Harding's) hair before sending them all off like this:

Josh spent all day Friday in bed trying to break his fever, while I cooked for our seudah (Purim meal) we would be having Sunday.  Friday night at the Shabbat table, Josh was in bad enough shape that we ended up running out to get a medic and friend to see if we needed to go to the hospital. Hospital averted, we spent a chaotic Shabbat with me entertaining the kids and Josh burning up.

Purim started on Saturday night soon after Shabbat ended. There was no way that Josh was going to be able to get to shul, and there was no way for me to go because he couldn't watch the baby. So, I quickly got the five older boys dressed in costume and they went off to hear Megilah reading without us. I was incredibly proud of them for sitting in shul completely un-supervised and being well behaved the entire time. 
The boys are ready for Megilah reading at night!

Now the question was, how were we going to fulfill our obligation to hear Megilah? You are supposed to hear it both in the evening of Purim and in the morning. I called around to a few people who know how to read Megilah, all of whom said they would be happy to come to our home. Josh and I were laughing, as we were thinking about who to ask to come over for the reading, that there are so many people that we could ask. It's just amazing to us how many people are capable of how many things here! Finally, I spoke to a neighbor who sent their teenage son over for a beautiful, perfectly delivered Megilah reading. 

Mission accomplished for the evening. Kids had a great time at the reading and we heard Megilah. I even got familiar with the 24 hour pharmacy in Jerusalem, as I had to head there to get more meds for Josh. We all went to sleep that night, with the excitement in the air for Purim the next morning....only to be woken by Zeli (4) throwing up in the middle of the night.

Yep, flu number 2.

He proceeded to burn up the entire night and to spend half the night in the bathroom. In the morning, when I told the kids that Zeli was really sick they said, "Oh no! Daddy was sick and we were down to six dwarfs. Now we are going to be Snow White and the 5 dwarfs? We are losing dwarfs every minute!"

And, indeed, we were. We managed to get Josh and Zeli into costume for one picture (and one picture only).

Having spent six months talking about our outfits and preparing for the day, we were all very disappointed that our dwarfs were dropping like flies. Josh recounted that, when I took the five dwarfs out to give out goodies around the neighborhood, the two sick dwarfs sat on the couch and burst into tears.

While they nursed their flus, we managed to have some fun delivering Mishloach Manot (packages you give out on Purim) and playing golf. Yep, you read that correctly. Our hysterical friend, Chaim Sherman, takes the opportunity every Purim to use that tempting green and those lovely flowers at the front of the yishuv for a heated round of golf. Everyone got into the action and had a great time. 
Oh yeah, we start em young with the golf game

While we practiced our swing, Josh experienced another beautiful and touching moment in the morning. Without being asked, the same young man who read for us at night showed up in the morning to read the Megilah. When Josh asked him how he knew to come he said, "My mom said you were still sick. So here I am." (She knew Josh was still sick since she was the excellent photographer of our one family picture.) Josh was touched that this person arranged his schedule for this selfless act and that he came so readily to assist the sick.

Our seudah, (traditional Purim meal) ended up being much smaller than anticipated, as we had two with flu who were uninvited and three with colds who were also banished. Those of us who remained enjoyed delicious Chinese food and good company.

And thus ended the less-than-ideal Purim. It has allowed for three take-aways in my home. 

1. We certainly appreciate good health and pray that our family and dear friends will all find ourselves in only the best of health for future Purims. 

2. We are blessed to be surrounded by selfless, caring people (and their amazing kids who drop everything to come to our rescue!)

3. Our kids are already dreaming about Purim 5774 and the awesome costumes that they plan to put together.

Nothing like giving them the incentive to plan ahead! 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Living Among Giants

Matan had a friend over for Shabbat this week. During Friday night dinner, I asked him how many brothers and sisters he has, how old they are, where they go to school and the like. He rattled off a long list of kids, including a two and a half year old brother and a one and a half year old sister – there are eight of them in total.

Wow, I thought to myself. That mom has her hands full. Yes, I know I have six insanely rambunctious boys, but I’m always impressed and amazed when I hear about moms who are juggling even more than I am.

We spoke for a few minutes about his older siblings and the schools they were attending, and that was it. Nothing else unusual about his family, according to him.

Saturday night, when his mom came to get him, we started talking to her. And some of what she was saying didn’t make sense. She said something about being able to select the sex of one of her babies, and I was completely lost. Finally, when I was confused beyond faking it, I said, “I’m lost. What are you talking about?” Assuming I already knew, she explained that their seventh child was actually a foster child. Oh – and he happens to have Downs.

Come again?

And so the story unfolded. Last year, the family, with six of their own healthy children, heard that a few Downs babies had recently been abandoned after birth. These babies were at the hospital with nowhere to go, and the foster system was trying to place them. This family convened a meeting and discussed the implications of taking one of these children – and all 8 members of their family voted to do so. 

And so, with their own full house, they took in a foster baby with Down Syndrome who they are now hoping to adopt. And shortly after taking him in, they discovered they were pregnant with their own baby.

Really? You almost have to laugh. Just when you are impressed from afar by the mother you know nothing about who juggles raising eight children, she casually mentions this incredible act of chesed (charity) as if it were something anyone would do.

These are the people with whom I live and with whom I am building a life in Israel. Such stories might cause some people to feel inferior, to wonder why others are so incredible and so capable while they try to simply stay afloat in their regular, everyday life. 

What these encounters do to me, however, is the exact opposite. They make me feel overwhelmingly blessed to live among giants. We turned to our children as she was talking and said, “Are you listening Matan? Do you hear this Yehuda? Do you understand what this family has done?”

And the best part of the entire experience, for me, was that the son didn’t even mention this at the Shabbat table.

“How many siblings do you have?” I had asked. “I’ve got 7.” And as I asked about each one, it didn’t even dawn on him to think that anything was unusual or special about his family and what they are doing.

If this boy, his mom and his entire family can serve as a role model for me – think of what they just taught Matan without even meaning to do so. My children are being raised among quiet, unassuming giants.

What a bracha (blessing).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

An Hour Away From the Storm

Maybe a year ago, when Yarden and Stella were being asked all the time what people could do for them, Yarden decided to turn the tables…on us. He very sweetly wrote a blog, explaining that the Frankls really didn’t need much of anything at that point. But boy could those Sussmans and their "dozens" of children use some assistance. Gotta love great friends.

People very sweetly pounced on the idea, asking what they could do for us (not much, but thanks!) and how they could help (I didn’t get any offers when I told them they could take my baby for a night…hmmmm).

At the time, one very sweet friend told me that she would like to offer me a free reflexology session. It was a charming offer and one that I wanted to take her up on…but I never had time. Between juggling the kids, the job, the housework and everything else, I just don’t have the room to put my feet up for an hour and enjoy.

And so I smiled, said thank you so much, and filed the offer away in my brain.

A year later, when Yarden recently wrote a post about being back in the throws of cancer-hell, I got a text. The message said something like, 

“Yala! Let’s do it. Tell me when you’re coming for a session. No excuses.”

And I sat there looking at my phone and laughing. A year later, and she was still thinking of me and urging me to take the time for myself. So, I wrote back something like, “Ok! We’ll do it.” And then I got back to my life.

Then, I ran into her on the way to an event at my kid’s school last week and she urged me to call. “You really should call already,” Josh said. And he was right.

So, last week I booked the appointment. As the day came, I thought about the 50 errands I could be running instead of getting reflexology and the laundry I could be folding. But I told that side of me to quiet down and I headed for their house.

And I enjoyed an hour of pure bliss. Relaxing in her lounge chair with music playing in the background, I was able to simply enjoy the session and the chance to take while another gave.

I was deeply touched by her desire to give to me and by her persistence in getting me to come over a year after she initially had the idea.

Thank you to the lovely person who got me to stop, relax and enjoy for one hour. It was worth the one year wait!

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Wasn't It Just Yesterday?

It was yesterday that I held you in my arms for the first time, remarking at your hefty weight. Other babies of ours have weighed more at birth, but for some reason I’ll always remember you as the heaviest, as the most solid.

Wasn’t it yesterday that I was ordering your first birthday cake? That I took that picture of you joyously swinging over to the Baskin Robbins to have it made?

And it must have been yesterday that you were sucking your thumb while cradling your blankie and your ever-present fuzzy ball (cotton ball). There are probably still fuzzy balls stuck behind couches in homes all over Potomac.

Wasn’t it yesterday that we boarded that plane for Israel, and that you stayed up for 10 hours, falling asleep as we were about to land?

And wasn’t it just yesterday when we put you into the Maon (daycare) without a word of Hebrew. And you simply waved, smiled, and took the plunge?


Who are you, this beautiful blond 11 year old?

Who are you, this basketball loving, Bnei Akiva devoted young man with the fearless love of sledding and other crazy adventures?

Who are you, this boy who shares my shoe size?

And where did you take the years?

I catch glimpses of the little you at times, in the way that you entertain your younger brothers, in the sensitivity that you show to my emotions, in the cuddles that you still accept…sometimes.

But then the glimpse is gone, and the growing young man remains.

I can’t imagine where 11 years have gone, how quickly each day dissolves into the next.

Today, I hold my memories of the little you tight to the chest as I dream about your tomorrows and look to your boundlessly open future.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Shorashim: The Roots to Matan's Future

I can't speak for all schools in Israel, but in our area there is a large Shorashim (family tree) project that the kids complete at the time of their bar or bat mitzvah. Matan has been in the middle of this project now for about four months, and the culminating party will be next Monday.

And boy do I need a vacation!

It's actually been a glorious activity and a lovely assignment. The kids were tasked with interviewing their roots - their parents,grandparents and great-grandparents - and finding out about their childhoods. They had a specific list of questions that they needed to ask of the interviewees which included about a dozen different items.

From what I understand from other parents who have gone through this with their kids, it's possible to put as much or as little effort into the project as you desire.

And boy did we go with the former!

When we first saw the criteria for the project, Josh and I looked at each other and said, "You've got to be kidding!" For an immigrant family, creating a 50 page book of interviews in Hebrew and accompanying pictures is no small task. First, the interview questions all had to be translated into English and typed up for the family members. Then, when they sent back their answers, I had to read them over with Matan and make sure that he understood everything in English. And then, we were sitting on an English interview!

We knew it would take Matan years to translate by hand every word that the grandparents and parents had written. So, taking a big gulp, we used Google Translate. Now, we know that when you try to translate something using this tool, you'll often find yourself asking where the orangutan eating the orange is rather than finding out where the nearest bathroom is. We warned Matan that the translations would probably not be very good and that he would need to go through every word and change things as necessary.

He did so, editing 25 pages of interview text and compiling it into stories that were interesting and readable.
(A page about Mommy)

He also asked a neighbor to look over all of the text for laugh-out-loud Google Translate errors, we had the teacher eyeball it all, and we had one of my co-workers do a final edit.

Finally, the text was ready. But this, of course, was only one part of the project. We needed pictures to go along with each person's story. I believe that I made 8 trips to the neighborhood photo store, making copies of essential pictures that Matan desperately wanted, making more copies when some of them didn't appear on my flash drive, and making even more copies when family members sent along great pictures from years gone by (Thanks Grandma Sue, Aunt Marilyn and Papa Rogie!).

Matan then took over the dining room table, creating a staging ground for his artistic endeavors.

He cut, he pasted, he collected leaves and twigs from the garden, and he compiled it all into a beautiful, moving collection of family history.

And then, as he neared completion, he mentioned entirely on his own that he wanted to add in tributes to the great-grandparents who had died. He also wanted sections about his uncles and their families. Beautiful. So, it was back to the drawing board for us. Fact finding missions in English, Google Translations, searching for pictures, cutting , pasting and completion!
Tribute to Grandpa Murray (Josh's grandfather, who Matan is named for)

Tribute to Papa Jerry (Romi's grandfather)

The Uncles and Their Families
We found out a number of great things along the way.

1. As he built the family tree, Matan discovered that he had three great-great grandmothers named Rose. What's that about?
The Family Tree Being Made
2. Josh was a very cute kid...and someone who is about to be bar mitzvah looks a lot like him. Hmmmm...

3. Matan's paternal grandparents took the cutest picture on one of their early dates. How cute are they here?

4. We might be related to another family in the yishuv - or at least our ancestors probably knew each other! This is a great story. Matan's paternal great grandparents ended up in Burlington, Vermont when the entire town from somewhere in Lithuania picked up and moved together. A few weeks ago, one of Matan's classmates was sharing a story from his project, and he mentioned that his ancestor moved from this town in Lithuania to....Burlington, Vermont! Matan was so shocked - he ran home to tell us and we called the other parents to laugh and discuss.

And on and on. The project was a great experience for Matan, if a bit of an exhausting one for his poor academically-high-strung mom. But now that it's completed he is very proud of himself and loves knowing so much about his history. And, we figure we've now got most of the material for the other five boys' Shorashim projects!

Shhhh....don't tell the teacher.

One Proud Project-Maker