Monday, June 18, 2012

Tel Aviv: the Sequel

We arrived Tel Aviv 3:30 AM on Saturday, after what you might call a Swiss sandwich: two red-eyes with a thin slice of Zurich in the middle.  “We” in this case are the girls, myself, and my mom, who joined us at the Zurich airport.  I was very proud of myself for actually getting the girls to leave the airport, take a train into Zurich, and walk down to the lake – no small feat given that Rebecca has 17 new Kindle books on the iPad, and Leah was perfectly content to go around the airport putting stickers on other people’s hand luggage for six hours.  Neither of them particularly wanted an excursion, but I won, and they earned the stamps in their passports. 

It is a core part of my travel ritual to leave something important on the airplane, usually a coat, but this time I disembarked in Israel with all of our possessions.  To make up for it, I forgot the car seat at baggage claim and didn’t realize it until we were in line for a taxi.  This may not seem like such a big deal if the word “airport” brings to mind a place like SFO , but just try getting back into baggage claim after passing through customs in Tel Aviv.  It would take a diplomatic escort, a solid foundation in black ops, and the ability to dig a tunnel without anybody noticing.  So we convinced ourselves that Leah would be OK for the 20-minute ride to Tel Aviv and got in a cab.  She was fine. We’re still trying to retrieve the car seat.  It’s Tuesday.

Other than that, it’s been a great trip so far.  We’re all struggling with the jetlag – it’s hard to convince a four-year-old that you should try to go to sleep, even if you don’t feel sleepy – and by the time I’ve cajoled her into bed at 2 AM, my own body clock is not so cooperative.  But the apartment rental is working out great, the kids love the beach, and they’ve started to explore beyond Tel Aviv with my mother (who, while perhaps out of practice with things like forcing a trip to the bathroom before you are nowhere near one, seems to be enjoying this).  Yesterday, the girls were tearing around the hippodrome at Caesarea, pretending to be horses in an ancient chariot race; today, they’re doing the Dig for a Day program at the Beit Guvrin Archaeological Seminars Institute.  Everyone who has done this program tells me that it’s an experience they will never forget.  They’re having fun, and I’m trying to retain my position that just being here is an adventure.  Coming home to them at the end of the workday is admittedly more exhausting than flopping down with room service, but the ache of maternal separation that I usually feel when I’m overseas, waking up every day just after their bedtime, is blessedly absent.  

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fit in running, but I made it out yesterday morning, petting cats and gazing out at paddleboarders along the way to Old Jaffa.  At the top of the hill, I stood on the Wishing Bridge.  According to the sign (and Wikitravel), legend holds that if you grasp the statue of your zodiac sign, face the sea, and make a wish, it will come true.  It sounds like a legend that the Ministry of Tourism conjured up, but who am I to pass up an opportunity to pause connect with what I wish for?  I cycled through all the usual suspects, recalling the scene in Groundhog Day where Andie MacDowell says “I always drink to world peace” – but I decided to wish for my kids to have a good time on this trip.  I care about this more than whether they learn anything, deepen their appreciation for other cultures, or eat something other than toast in the next two weeks.  It’s somewhat related to world peace, as there is a tiny voice in the back of my head reminding me that I’m in a volatile part of the world – but mostly, I just want them to look back on this trip and say, “That was fun.”  

So far, it seems as if my wish could come true.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Everything you need

Last weekend, we had a housewarming party.  It was the confluence of all the rivulets of love in our life: friends and family, neighbors and classmates, colleagues and former colleagues, softball teammates and book club members. From three generations of Paula's family to Rebecca's best friend since birth, we were swimming in a sea of joy.

As throwing a party is not something I often do, and as I love to cook for a crowd, I approached the date with great anticipation.  I spent weeks planning.  I stayed up late at night, pulling recipes from Cooks Illustrated and Martha Stewart, creating shopping lists in Excel (with a "category" column for Type A shopping), making a schedule of what was to be done each night leading up to the party.  Buy avocados; shred cheese; juice limes; make pie crust.  The little cells in my spreadsheet swelled with a sense of purpose.

A week before the party, we announced some big changes at work.  I went from an individual contributor to a manager with direct reports in three countries overnight.  I promptly earned my new team's confidence and respect by coming into work for a grand total of four hours that week.  My bones ached, my throat swelled, my nose plugged itself shut.  I lay on the couch, staring at the ceiling because turning pages of Bossypants seemed too hard.  Thursday morning, I croaked my way through a 5AM all-hands meeting with the team in Israel, then curled up in a ball on the carpet with a fleece blanket over me.  The columns of my spreadsheet, each labeled with a day of the week, sat patiently waiting for me to get off my ass and chop something.  "Up and to the right", I kept saying to myself; but as the days marched to the right, I just couldn't get up.

Thursday night, my sinuses finally started to clear.  Paula came over.  "We'll get it done," she said.  I wasn't so sure.  My to-do's went from cell A1 to G23.  It wasn't possible.

So arrived the pivotal and predictable moment when it was time to redefine the "it" that would get done.  The moment of epiphany that our guests would not care whether they were having homemade key lime bars for dessert or Chips Ahoy.  The moment when the pie chart of "want" vs. "need" got refreshed and we relaxed into the realization that everything on that list, up to and including the party itself, was optional.

I am a sucker for wants masquerading as needs.  They fool me every time.  And yet the ability to distinguish the two spells the difference between a life of stress and one of equanimity.  Most of us run ourselves ragged with the list of things we "have to do", only to realize that very little of it is either necessary or all that satisfying.  Imagine if all the anger and anxiety associated with that to-do list got channeled into something positive.  What a wonderful world this would be.

Re-learning this lesson in the days leading up to the housewarming party was timely, as I am two weeks away from another two-week trip to Israel- this time with my kids and my mother in tow.   The plan is that I'll work during the day while Mom, who has been to Israel many times, explores with the girls.  We'll take a long weekend in the middle of the trip to go away together.

It's the opportunity of a lifetime - and yet traveling with kids is like the challenge round on a game show called Wheel! Of! Patience!  When people ask what we're doing this summer, I say with enthusiasm, "I'm taking the kids to Israel!" but the reality is that I'm stressed about it.  Their presence doesn't exempt me from productive days at the office, but it does mean that going running in the morning, collapsing into a chair at night, or catching up with Paula on Skype will be a lot harder.  They're good travelers, but that doesn't mean they won't be crabby, hot, jetlagged, bored, picky at the dinner table or at war with each other - and happy to let you know about it.  In other words, they're still kids.  For my mom, who doesn't live with this every day, will two weeks as their primary adult be exhausting?

So it's time to reset.  To remember that just being there constitutes an adventure.  To allow the trip to unfold organically, and to remind ourselves that whatever we see, do, or experience is perfect - even if it doesn't match the itinerary.  This isn't to say we won't set our intentions- only that we need to detach from the outcome.

Aided by a Costco-sized dispenser of what my younger daughter calls "hansitizer", we managed to pull together a glorious feast last Saturday.  I wore a new yellow dress I loved.  I baked the tamale pie I'd prepared, while Paula served up her famous chicken tacos.  I walked among our guests passing out key lime bars- feeling more like June Cleaver than like a workaholic mom for once, and loving every minute of it.  Every time another guest came through our door, I beamed.  I was reveling in the extended family that has made our life in California, thousands of miles from my own mother and sister, such a beautiful thing.

Mr. Jagger was right - you can't always get what you want - but if you try sometimes, you do.

Here's a poem for you, to close out this post.  When I'm way out of balance, I find myself repeating the first two lines.

Everything You Need

Everything you need is right before you.
You will find it in the corners when you sweep.

Take out the broom from behind the coats in the entryway.
Bring what you collect to the ocean.

There is nothing to be afraid of.
Open your robe and walk out into the water.

If you fall, you will land in the hammock
you have woven from passions and tendons

and the muscle of your heart
will pull you to your feet.

When you emerge, shivering,
take a moment to absorb it in your bones

before wrapping yourself up again.
You have a gift you can open anytime.

Watch what your arms and legs can do.
You are capable of so much joy.