Monday, June 19, 2006

Feeling the pull

I'm in my parents' cozy living room, sitting at the computer table while my husband lounges on the couch watching a World Cup match and my son naps next to him. The winds outside are really whipping up, and the sky is growing darker and darker, in anticipation of forecasted thunderstorms. Today has been the first day that I haven't actually left the house - so relaxing!
With just over a week to go before we return to Israel, my feelings about going are ambivalent at best. I can't help but wonder if our lives would be better here, easier somehow. Even though I've been living in Israel for nearly fifteen years, I suppose I will always feel more comfortable here. Even the unknown is relatively familiar, and my natural instincts kick in. Life isn't a puzzle here like it is in Israel, where despite my language fluency and successful acclimation, I still often feel as though I'm shooting in the dark, as though I will never fit in 100%. Of course, after so many years abroad, I imagine that it would be hard to be completely American either, but I suppose that what it comes down to is that which comes naturally versus that which must be learned. A recent conversation over large lattes at Starbucks with my friend N, who lives in Europe and was also here visiting her family (we coordinated visits "home") confirms what I've been feeling on this subject, though I actually believe that she is generally happier and feeling more comfortable where she is than I feel in Israel.

It's tough being an expat, even when you are living somewhere you chose to live. I have some good friends in Israel, but my "soulmate" friends are all abroad, whether it be N in Europe or the dear friends we stayed with last week in New Jersey, where everything was wonderful (except for my knee acting up and causing me to miss one of our NYC days) and we had five days of perfectly meshed personalities on every level. Of course, it's also been wonderful for the little one, who has been having a fabulous time making new friends, hitting the playgrounds and amusement parks and charming the pants off of all who cross his path. (And his English just keeps getting better and better - it's amazing to watch!) While I realize that we are on vacation, and daily life would certainly be different if we were actually living here, as I look around me at the lives of my friends, I think that it would be nice for us to be here too. My son's educational and extracurricular opportunities would certainly be greater, as would my professional opportunities. We've talked about relocating to the US for a few years, but we don't know what my husband could do, given that his professional experience is very focused on one particular area, and isn't really something that he could do here.

Then there's the normalcy, the idea of living in a country whose very existence isn't questioned, a place where life isn't lived in such an intense, "in-your-face" manner and banality is the norm, should you so desire. Everything about life in Israel is intense, and you often don't realize just how stressful it is until you get out for a while, like I've done now.

On the flip side of all this are all the great things about living in Israel - my sense of personal security (in the "I-can-take-my-dog-for-a-walk-at-2:30am-without-having-to-worry" sort of way, not in the "watch-out-for-suspicious-people/objects" sort of way), the friendliness and openness of many Israelis, and how they're willing to help you at the drop of a hat, even when they don't know you, socialized medicine (for better or for worse), and so on. It really is an amazing place to live.

Where am I going on this? I don't know. These mixed feelings are always swirling around in my head, and they intensify whenever we come to the US for a visit. I suppose they are even more intense this time, as I see what kind of life my son could have here, as we miss out on relationships with those we hold dear. A dilemma, to be sure, and one that I cannot imagine ever solving.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Prince Charming

Something strange is happening to the little one here. Surrounded by English speakers with nary a Hebrew speaker in sight (his father speaks to him in English, so I don't know if that counts), he is speaking more Hebrew than he ever did while we were in Israel. His English is also improving, as he is stringing more and more words together to make sentences, but we it's the Hebrew that we're noticing. When I mentioned it to my friend who's visiting from Norway with her children (we managed to coordinate our visits home for the first time ever - very, very cool!), she told me that she sees the same with her older child, a completely bilingual six year-old. Her daughter is speaking to her in Norwegian far more than she does when they are in Norway, which I find very interesting. With everyone else though, she speaks in English (though at one point she was trying to teach my son the Norwegian version of "The Wheels on the Bus", a current favorite).

The Hebrew speaking isn't too problematic. My parents are learning a few words here and there out of necessity, and whatever they don't understand, we translate. I'm doing my best to impart the "best" of American culture, and as I write this, my parents, my husband and my son are all sitting on the sofa, engrossed in a "Bob the Builder" video. He's also been getting healthy doses of Thomas the Tank Engine (the perennial favorite amongst all two year-olds), and has recently discovered the magic that is Elmo, currently known in our household as Melmo. He's gotten his first baseball glove, and knows that Friendly's has very good ice cream.
Of course, there have also been a number of moments when I've been grateful that there are certain words that he only knows in Hebrew. Earlier today, he was out on a walking trail with my husband, who is trying to get in shape for an upcoming hike out West with friends. Apparently, as they reached the end of the trail, they crossed paths with a rather attractive young woman. What does my charming, flirtatious two year-old say, with complete spontaneity (meaning no prompting from his father)? "Hi, cusit!" Of course, she had no idea what he was saying, and responded with a cheerful "Hi!". Husband was concerned that she would ask what the little one had said, but fortunately for him, that didn't happen. We've definitely got to break that habit before we get back to Israel though, or we're going to be in serious trouble.

I must say though, it's pretty fascinating to watch my son's language skills develop right before my eyes, and each day he surprises us with more and more. He sometimes mixes his languages, but I'm not terribly concerned, given the fact that he's only two. It's actually rather endearing, if not confusing to those in the vicinity. He's also a lot more chatty here, speaking with anyone and everyone, flirting his way about town and charming the pants off of anyone who crosses his path (even me!).

Tomorrow, we're going to turn things up a notch, as we get in the car and head for NYC for a few fun-filled days with friends. It should be interesting to see how our boy holds his own in the Big Apple. Hopefully, the weather will hold out for us, but so far, it's not looking too promising. Keep your eyes peeled for a full report sometime next week...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Have a nice day

Well, hey! Welcome to the US. The trip over went much better than expected, though the trip to the airport was rather dicey, given that some poor soul opted to take his own life on the railroad tracks shortly before we planned to catch our train to the airport. We arrived later than planned, but still had more than enough time at the airport, even managing to do some shopping and drink a large coffee before the flight. Miraculously, the little one fell asleep shortly after we left the house, waking up only once we were more than halfway to Brussels. Five hours in the airport in Brussels passed surprisingly quickly, as we ran around, jumped and played, watched the planes, ate breakfast and generally ran ourselves ragged. The little one fell asleep as we were checking in for the flight to the US and slept for the next five hours. We even managed to get the bulkhead, and when the seatbelt sign was turned off, we laid him gently on the floor in front of us. It was brilliant! Far better than anything I had envisioned, and as neither flight was full, we managed to swing three seats instead of just the two that we'd paid for. We didn't get much sleep, and our first night was nothing short of hell, given how exhausted we were. We had dinner with relatives, though I don't recall anything that we spoke about, and I didn't actually make it past the first course, stepping away from the table to pass out in a bedroom.

Exhaustion and jetlag are now behind us, and we are running to and fro, doing everything from visiting with friends to spending time at various outdoor fairs and amusement parks, and so on. The little one is having a blast, playing with other children, receiving lots of presents from pretty much everyone and getting to know his grandparents. He has charmed the pants off of everyone he meets, smiling devilishly and blowing kisses to all. The shopping has also begun, and in less than two hours at Marshalls, I managed to find one pair of trousers and seven shirts (five of which are black, though quite honestly, I'm not too sure how that happened). JC Penny wasn't as successful - only four items out of 21 tried on. Still, there's lots of clothing to be had out there, and many more shops yet to conquer.

It's been interesting to come home again, and more than just a bit strange. It's an odd feeling to return to your childhood hometown as an adult, but to a different house (the parents downsized several months ago), to see all of the accessories of one's youth, but in a different location. Everything is so familiar, yet I still feel like a tourist, and can appreciate the beauty of the area in which I grew as never before. There's so much greenery - spacious, rolling lawns, and wide open spaces. The road that runs parallel to the river is breathtaking, and the mountains that overlook the highways are simply magnificent. I think I can finally understand why my parents chose to live in this area.

As much as I love Israel, I have to say that it's very nice to be away. It's nice not to listen to the news every hour. It feels strange to walk into a shopping mall and not have your bag checked by a security guard. Life here is relaxing and easy, and we have quickly gotten used to the little things, like parking your car in your own garage (attached to the house, of course, and opened with an automatic garage door opener), good roads, and an overall "softness" that is simply lacking in Israeli society. The problems are different here, and it feels good to deal with something else for a while. It feels good to spend time with dear friends and their children, it feels good not to be on edge all the time.

Okay, looking back over this post, I can see that I'm not in top form. It's late and I'm tired, and I've got some phone calls to make. I promise that I'll try to make the next post more interesting, more witty, more everything.

As they say in these parts, "Have a nice day!"