Stapled to the wall of my classroom is a world map, around which dozens of cards are posted. On these cards are the introductions my students wrote on the first day of this school year. So much has changed for them since September. Lately, I find myself going back to read these cards over. They are my reminder that these humans are just kids, despite the very adult stories they carry. Some I had already known for a couple of years, and some I had only known for a day, when I asked them to write a few basic facts about themselves. This map, framed by teenage words, is nothing more than a symbol for the community and trust that we build every day. Our journey together is never linear. For every step forward, there are often two steps back. While we grind our pencils down to nubs writing essays and sweat over annotating short stories, we have conversations. We talk about life goals, past mistakes, fears, and relationships. We talk about making better choices, changing the world, what it means to have faith, and being good people. The one thing we never do, is give up. The one thing we consistently focus on, is that no one can take away our education. The one thing we never, ever let go of, is hope.
About a month ago, I finished reading Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers. I was riveted by this tale of four indomitable women, who were bound together through loss during the Roman siege of Masada. Women, who under different circumstances would have ostracized one another, instead protected one another. For me, the beauty of this historical fiction was in the way each woman’s past drew them to stand side by side with those who were suddenly not so different from themselves in their suffering. They could not save each other from their grief or from their pain, but they could fortify each other with unconditional love born in empathy.
My pregnancy radically changed my life. I am not alone in this. The conception of a child is life affirming and life altering. For some it’s pure joy, for some traumatic, and for some a mixture of both. Nearly five years later, my life is filled with unspeakable amounts of joy and love. The traumas I endured are always present, but they are slowly becoming my friends. I no longer need to ignore them, to pretend they don’t exist. I still shake uncontrollably, my heart pounding in my chest when I talk about them, but I can look at them now. I can appreciate them now. I can be thankful for them now. Yes, I would not be who I am today without them, so I am grateful for the blessings that they have brought about in my life. God brings healing and good in all situations, and my life and the life of my daughter are a testament to that truth.
I get emotional when I think about those who stood with me in my most terrifying, earth shattering, gut wrenching moments. I have never truly thanked them. Sometimes there aren’t enough words, sometimes you’re drowning and can’t properly think to form words, sometimes you can’t say thank you without becoming too vulnerable when you’re summoning all the strength you have just to go on. The words thank you will never be enough to adequately express the soul deep gratitude I have for the men and women who stood with me, for those who stood for me in my weakest moments. I am beyond thankful for these people.
I thank God for the woman who became my neighbor when I was about six months pregnant. Our daughters were born just a few weeks apart. I thank God she came over every day, that she was my first mommy group and that she never asked any questions. She just loved us. Thank you, to this woman, who brought over warm meals to feed us before our much prayed for journey back to Texas finally began. Thank you for driving us to the airport, for dragging our four giant suitcases, stroller, and two carry-on bags up to the check-in counter. Thank you for telling the woman behind the counter something in Hebrew, which in my stress and exhaustion I couldn’t comprehend, but that prompted her to let us to bypass the lengthy security checkpoint, and allowed you to help us through the terminal. I remember following you in shock when you beckoned me. You, my first mommy friend, hauled my suitcases through the airport, handed me your American cash leftover from your last trip overseas, and hugged us good-bye. I sat safely at the gate, my daughter entertaining those around us, repeatedly thanking God for miraculously getting us quickly and calmly through the first hurdle of our journey. I thanked God then, and I thank him now, every single day, for you.
I thank God for the woman with whom I basically grew up with, so to speak, in Israel. I’m so thankful for your inner and outer strength. You rise to any challenge and your heart is as warm and loving as it is fierce. Thank you to this soul sister, who walked and talked all over Tel Aviv with me, who never judged, only listened. Thank you for being my strength when I had none. Thank you for helping me pack, weigh, and re-pack our bags. I will never forget your superhuman strength, when dismayed I thought we would never get all of our luggage to fit in our tiny European size car, you said yes we will, and you lifted and pushed those absurdly heavy bags until all doors closed and we had room to sit. You are my hero and I thank God for you.
I thank God for my family, the family who financially, emotionally, and spiritually supported us. I will never have enough words to express how deeply thankful I am for all that you endured on our behalf. Your acts of selflessness went above and beyond what any daughter/sister/granddaughter could expect. Thank you for the bible verses you poured into me that fortified my faith that God would protect us. Thank you for the frequent overseas trips you made, for considering to relocate to be close to us, for never letting me become guilt ridden, and for restoring normalcy and peace in our lives. Thank you for being our bubble, our tribe, and our truthsayers. You are our greatest blessings.
I thank God for my childhood friend, my sister, my daughter’s godmother. A steadfast woman of quiet strength, you would come over at the sound of any tear or fear in my voice. Thank you for being our safe-haven, for opening your home to us whenever we needed a peaceful place to go. Thank you for taking days off work to spend countless hours sitting in courthouse waiting areas. Your calm bolstered me. Your patience soothed me. Thank you for the kitchen dance parties and for filling the little person up with love. I am so thankful for you.
Thank you to my church growth group. What was perhaps to you a small act of kindness on Mother’s Day a year ago, was so much more to me. Still to this day, I am overwhelmed. Thank you for quietly handing me flowers and a small balloon, since my little one was too young to say “Happy Mother’s Day.” It meant the world to me and I still tear up when I think about it. I am so thankful that God has brought each of you into our lives.
Thank you to the family, friends and strangers who have prayed us through this journey. Thank you for coming alongside me without judgment, for teaching me what it means to stand next to someone in their darkest moments and to love them. Thank you will never be enough. But thank you.
Vacation Bible School is upon us. While I’m running around with twelve two-year olds, my sweet love is having a blast in the three-year old class. It’s an energetic week filled with singing, dancing, crafts, bible stories and neon t-shirts, and we are loving every minute of it.
Teaching two-year olds at VBS, after wrapping up the school year less than two weeks ago, is an interesting transition into the summer. I formerly taught in year-round schools, so this is my first summer off as a teacher. At first I worried that I would feel anxious with my new found extra time, but so far we’ve been busier than ever – with the added bonus of afternoon naps!
My life and goals changed profoundly when I had my daughter. Suddenly the round-the-clock work of the corporate side of education was no longer appealing. What I desperately wanted was time. Time with my daughter and time to nourish myself as her mother. I have been so grateful to have found a position this past year that afforded me time to exercise, cook healthy meals, and have meaningful experiences with my precious girl. More than that, I am so blessed that my “job” does not feel like work at all, and allows me summers off to volunteer for vacation bible school, go to swimming lessons, and make random ice cream runs.
I am thrilled about how excited my little foodie is about VBS. We’re talking thirteen-year old girl trying to win the spirit stick excited. Everyday she barrels out of her class singing a new song or re-enacting a skit the older youth put on. She can talk about her bible verses and asks, “Are we going to vacation bible school again?” at the end of each day. I am so proud of her for the enthusiastic way she embraces life, and am overwhelmed with gratitude to be able to share this with her.
There was a time when I feared that we would never be able to come back to Texas, and that we would never be able to take part in such simple, yet meaningful activities. I prayed everyday that my daughter would be allowed to grow up here, in a Christian environment, surrounded by loving and supportive people. This week at VBS, I was struck by the realization that those dreams and more have come true.
As we were saying our prayers before bedtime tonight, we thanked God for these blessings. Our new ritual is that first I pray, then she says her own prayer. Tonight, she thanked God for mommy, the doors, the lights and giggles. Naturally, we both erupted in uncontrollable laughter. After we calmed down and I was tucking her in she said, “we forgot to say amen when we were laughing.” We agreed it
To boost our energy for this week, we made nutty noodles with vegetables from The China Study Cookbook over the weekend. We love peanut butter, so the this recipe was a no brainer for us. The earthiness of the flavors was a nice change from our usual noodle dishes, and even better, it took absolutely no time to prepare!
This dish was a win-win!
Spring fever was in the air today. The sun came out, banishing all gloomy weather, so with the day off we set out to celebrate the last remaining days of spring break.
Zilker Park is one of our favorite outdoor spots here in Austin. After a morning jog around Town Lake, we headed over to the children’s play area for a picnic lunch and then some serious sliding and swinging.
When my little love saw the slides, she clenched her fists in the air and shouted as loud as she could. After a few futile attempts to direct her towards the slides meant for her size, I followed her towards the taller, more exciting ones. The girl knows how to have fun.
As I climbed up the steps behind her, with one hand firmly placed on her back, I found myself repeating, “okay, be careful” over and over again. I tacked on “and have fun” as sliding should be fun. And so with every step afterwards, she would say “I okay have fun.”
It’s such a delicate balance, teaching her to embrace having fun, while learning to set boundaries and to be safe. When I hear her reflect my own words back to me, it’s a beautiful and gentle reminder that every moment counts, and that this precious girl is watching, always looking for examples of the kind of person she should be.
We ended our sunny afternoon with a stop at Lick, which serves the best ice cream I have ever had. I am not exaggerating. We shared goat cheese with honey and thyme, carrots and tarragon, and strawberries and sweet cream. Tired and happy, we crashed when we got home, and woke up very hungry a couple of hours later.
To replenish ourselves from our active day, I made Orecchiette with Kale and Breadcrumbs. My little foodie loves anything with pasta in it, and the earthiness from the anchovies made this a comforting and filling dish. We both had seconds and practically licked our bowls clean. Sun, fun and delicious food. It doesn’t get better than that.
Identity. It’s the word of the hour in our household. My little one has staunchly claimed ownership of hers. Her sweet voice belts out “It’s mine!” in clear tones that vibrate between the walls of our home. During a tickle-war timeout she’ll softly repeat after me “pretty girl” with a shy smile. When after several failed attempts, she manages to stack her blocks just so, she simply states “try again good girl.”
Each day brings with it new jokes, expressions, likes, and dislikes. I am often in awe of her developing confidence and the beauty of her personality. I thank God that I have the opportunity to be her mother and am humbled by that privilege.
My changing identity on the other hand, has been causing me some confusion lately. Moving back to Texas from Israel has put me in doubt of my social graces. I find myself replaying conversations in my mind, questioning whether or not I gave my opinion too freely, interrupted too much, or spoke too loudly; all tactics which were necessary for surviving a conversation on the streets of Tel Aviv.
Then again, it could be motherhood that’s brought out a stronger, more direct side. There’s nothing like breastfeeding in public, or a screaming baby in a grocery store to rid you of most social anxieties. Once you’ve stood in line for an elevator in a crowded mall as your baby catapults spit-up over your shoulder, there are really no niceties left to worry about.
There’s also the evolving question of motherhood and career. It’s a constant ticker running through my mind: How will the profession I choose, for how many hours a day, effect her positively or negatively?
I haven’t figured out the answers to most of these questions yet, but what I do know is that I want to live honestly, joyfully, bravely, and wisely, so that my daughter will have the confidence to do so as well.
I decided that the versatility of tofu perfectly characterized the mood in our house. I’ve served my little foodie dishes with tofu before, but never as the main staple. She tends to name the tofu whatever vegetable or flavor it’s served with. Whether she proudly calls it a potato, cauliflower, or pasta, she always seems to enjoy it as she stuffs it into her little mouth.
I made Tosca Reno’s tofu fajitas and they were yummy! My sweet girl ate a deconstructed version, inhaling each ingredient separately, rather than as a wrap, but she loved it all the same. I added a red bell pepper, nixed the sour cream, and stuck in some slices of avocado. I served it with roasted sweet potato wedges, or what my daughter refers to as “sweet fries.”
While I may still be trying to figure out my new role as a mother, trying to fit in again in South Texas, and while my daughter stakes her claim in just about everything that she can, tofu at least will be whatever we want it to be, no questions asked, without judgment.
It finally hit me that I’m back in Texas, and that I can actually go and do everything I’ve been dreaming about while living away. One thing I’ve looked forward to doing is taking my daughter to a fall pumpkin patch. So a couple of weekends ago we headed out to Elgin Christmas Tree Farm and enjoyed a day full of pumpkins, hayrides, petting zoos, and pony rides.
The highlights of the day were when she hugged a goat before seating herself upon him, and when she shouted out “alright” for the first time from atop her pony. I don’t know if it’s motherly nostalgia, entering my thirties, or just that I’ve learned not to take my culture for granted, but it was deeply gratifying to experience her connecting with her Texas roots.
As we continue to settle in, I hope not to take for granted the small things that make coming home so wonderful. I also pray that we will keep our sense of humor regardless of where we live. Here are a few of the sillier things that I never knew to appreciate about Texas until I was living in Tel Aviv.
- Mexican Food. I never considered myself a Mexican food lover until there was none to be found, and then I was suddenly salivating at the idea of all things Tex-Mex! My friends and family would mail me taco dinner kits, from which I would use the taco shells, discard the ready made sauce and seasoning, and make my own taco filling. I will never take tacos for granted again.
- Drive-Thru. Bank, coffee, food, pharmacy. So simple. Yet I had to have family members re-educate me as to how these things work. Not embarrassing at all.
- Debit Card Checkout. How did I forget that you swipe your own card at the register? I will always remember the look on the cashier’s face at Target as I stood there, card dangling from my hand, waiting for her to take it. Panic set in as I realized I was at a complete loss as to what to do. I wanted to reassure her that I actually am a functioning member of society, but it seemed sort of pointless.
- Super Grocery Stores With Their Ample Parking Spaces. H.E.B., Central Market and Whole Foods. I thought of you often as I trekked 5 miles to my neighborhood grocery. I really missed you on the return trip, when I was pushing a stroller full of groceries with one hand, holding a colicky baby with the other, and stopping along the way at at least 2 other groceries to find what was left on my list.
- Yes Ma’am, Thank You Sir. Southern manners, I just can’t get enough.