Jeff Astrof has 100 days off. See how he spends them.

Archive for April 2011

Day 70

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There’s an axiom that the best sound is of someone else’s kid crying. I’ll expand that to include the relative joy I get from seeing misbehaved kids and frustrated parents that are not my kids and are not me. After being told yesterday that my son was well-behaved, our hot streak continued. Last night Shawni, trying to set my daughter up with a friend, approached a little girl and asked how old she was. The little girl scowled. She proceeded to have a conversation with this little girl about when her birthday party was and what she was going to do for it and the little girl became meaner and meaner. My little girl is shy, but she’s not mean to adults, so we won that round. We didn’t learn that the little girl was recently adopted and moved to a new country until a short while later, so we had a moment to savor our parental victory.

I had a similar moment. There is a little boy here who sits through every class and every service politely and answers questions with such self-possession, while my boy runs in and out on a loop, asking if he’s allowed to run in and out anymore. But last night, after my little boy had just run out, a group of people got up and started singing and dancing in a circle- yes, Jews still behave like they did in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. The father of this Good Boy was the first one up to sing and dance, and each loop around he motioned for his son to join him. Finally, in a moment only seen by me and his son, the father said, “Can’t you do one thing for your father?” It was classic bad parenting– giving your kid that much control– a rookie mistake I’ve made a thousand times. But what it showed me was that things aren’t always as they seem– I gave the Good Boy more credit than I give my own son because I don’t live with the Good Boy. My son, by the way, is a good boy, and has been a star on this trip (I’m about to take him to a bonfire where he will announce ‘I’m bored’ yet scream when I take him home, so I want to get it down that he’s a good boy before that happens).

UPDATE: Just got back from the campfire where the Good Boy broke out his guitar and started playing along with the professional musician who was leading the sing along. I don’t know who I resented more: the Good Boy or his father who was beaming with pride and clapping and singing along much more strongly I guarantee than if his kid was sleeping on his legs like mine was. “Caleb, do you want to learn to play guitar?” “No.” “Why not? Don’t you want to be able to play guitar like that boy?” “No.” “Okay, we’re going to start lessons when you get back.” “I don’t want to.” “Can’t you do one thing for your father?”

I don’t know why I can’t stop, but I just can’t. I know my kids will thank me later if they’re still talking to me. The big (non) event today is that Shawni pointed out that Sasha has what appears to be a swollen lymph gland on the back of her neck. Shawni pointed it out to be punitive: I was once again obsessing about Caleb’s front tooth that has yet to come in. The reason this is an issue for me is that Caleb lost that tooth when he was three and it was my fault. It was the first time I watched him alone and Shawni told me not to let him fall asleep with his pacifier in his mouth in Sasha’s bed because he could fall off and hurt himself. What are the chances, I thought. It turns out, 100% and that little alfred E. neuman gap in his smile has tortured me ever since.

Anyway, Shawni said if I wanted to worry about something, I should worry about the little lymph gland on the back of Sasha’s neck, and since of course I want to worry about something, I took her up on it. Like the missing tooth, I blamed myself immediately. Not for the obvious reason: I gave her my chronic cough that I’ve had for two weeks and now she has, but because of the other obvious reason: since my kids were born I have prepared in my mind the worst case scenario for them. I know, it’s awful! But I have pictured bad things happening to them, followed by intense panic attacks on my part. i blame myself for Sasha’s little lymph gland because just this morning I was thinking, what if she were to get really sick. Now, deep down I know there’s no connection with what I dread and picture and what happens– after all, every Wednesday night that I play basketball I picture the young Asian kids struggling to carry my lifeless body off the court, trying to retrieve bits of my exploded heart from the mirrored walls so we don’t lose the deposit on the gym.

I made the mistake of googling swollen neck lymph nodes which is the worst thing for a hypochondriac to do. Needless to say, all roads on the internet lead to bad things. I’m sure she’ll be fine– apparently a chronic cough can be a sign of a cold or flu that would drain into that particular lymph gland, but I’ve yet to find the website that would be able to diagnose her for me and put all doubts out of my head, on-line. In any event, I have pledged to make a large donation to a children’s charity as soon as I get the good news– which is how I wind up giving most of my charity, by the way.

I know every little thing happens for a reason, and maybe the reason for this little bump is just to have me focus on how precious my little girl is and to stop hounding her for every little thing. And while I’m at it, I should probably lay off my little boy, too. There are more important things than playing the guitar (although at this late hour I can’t seem to think of one). I should get some rest and put my mind at ease and not waste so much time preparing for the worst. Besides, we have a hike tomorrow and if we get blown up by an unmarked land mine, we’re going to have bigger things to worry about.


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April 23, 2011 at 12:01 pm

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Day 69

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I left my cabin this morning, heading towards breakfast with my head down, staring at the ground, lost in thought, probably thinking about whether or not they’ll have the eggs I like or where my wedding ring might be or should I have rented a car instead of relying on someone else driving me around today. The answers to those questions, by the way were: yes, no idea and no. A week from today, if airplane technology doesn’t fail me, I will be walking with my head down, lost in thought, wondering if it was a bad idea to schedule a meeting with a network an hour after I land, where is my camera and will I be able to lose the weight I gained on my two week tour through the dessert table. The answer to those questions will be: Yes, no idea and no.

The difference between then and now, of course, is that if I had looked up this morning, I would have seen the sun coming up over the Sea of Gallilee and a week from now I will be day dreaming in bumper to bumper 8 a.m. traffic that will take me 25 minutes to move a mile to drop my still-sleeping kids off at school. This tremendous waste of my environment was brought to my attention when I stumbled upon a prayer that talks about being “burdened with blessings”. It was hard for me to understand the burden of blessings. I know people say it’s a curse to be born rich, but I really believe I could handle it. In fact, I could handle it right now if the Powers That Be want to toss that curse my way 45 years out of the womb. On my way back to Second Breakfast, I looked up and noticed the rolling green hills that were dotted with orchards. The same hills that took my breath away when I got here five days ago, and I realized the burden of blessings. Things are so comfortable for me, that I have to search for things to worry about.

Yesterday, our guide, the fantastic and energetic and impossibly young Franny said that she preferred the desert to the mountains. My wife and I immediately countered that we felt the opposite: up here in the mountains we were surrounded by waterfalls and wild flowers, the desert is just sand. Franny said that’s why she loves the desert: when you come upon a flower or a stream it’s amazing, here in the mountains, it’s just everywhere. And that made me think: Screw you, Franny, I’m not paying you to be right, I’m paying you to show me old things that I can force my kids to be interested in. Anyway, of course, Franny was right– stupid Franny always young and right– the mountains are the burden of blessings. It made me realize that some day I will get the worst phone call of my life, so I should appreciate the fact that right now my biggest issue is a daughter who’s anxious and sometimes they don’t have the eggs I like. (I wonder if they’ll have them tomorrow morning).

So today, armed with my new appreciation of life and my adorable kids, I left Sasha at home to recuperate with Shawni– our bedroom sounded like a TB ward last night with all of the coughing– while Caleb and I hitched onto a tour to see something ancient and something wet. As a fellow boy, Caleb is easy for me to get: if he’s happy it’s because he’s distracted, if he’s cranky it’s because he’s tired or hungry (the drive for girls is not yet in him but I know that’s going to be a big one for him). Midway between our drive from a natural spring (wet) and a 2,000 year old village (old) the guy sitting next to Caleb in the back of the pickup truck we hitched a ride on said, “Caleb, you are really a well-behaved boy.” I knew that he had just set the time for an impending meltdown but I took the compliment at the time.

The guy went on to say that yesterday he shared a car with a kid Caleb’s age who was screaming the whole way. “And the mother had such patience I wanted to throw the kid out of the car.” It was the second time I had heard the term “patience” used vis-a-vis parenting. The first time, of course, was from the crazy man on the plane who admired my patience, and here it was used as a pejorative. Of course, midway through this story, Caleb started crying that he was tired and hungry and wanted to go home. In order to impress my new friend I had the instinct to throw Caleb out of the car, but that would be a hard story to tell Shawni so I just held Caleb close to me and said, “Don’t ruin this for daddy!” No, of course I didn’t say that, but I did tell him to rest against me, and when that didn’t work, I gave him my iphone to play with: he’s going to grow up to stare at the ground, too, but I didn’t know what else to do.

When we got back to our cabin, Sasha was well rested, she danced up to the bar to pick up her food, which made me happy to no end. Her bonding with Mommy relaxed her and gave her a great day which I could take personally, “Why wouldn’t spending the day with Daddy make her feel this way?!” but I answered my question with the tone of my question. Anyway, I’m going to really try to appreciate my blessings– which of course, are my children– and my burdens– being a better father to said blessings– and really, really try not to sweat the small stuff. In the meantime, I’m going to try to watch the sun set over the Gallilee. But not before I email my agent to find out what meetings he has for me when I get back, and also to find out if the dining room has that chicken I like. Baby steps.

Written by 100daysoff

April 22, 2011 at 7:13 am

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Day 68

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This is one of those moments when I need my wife to tell me, “you’re just tired”. Unfortunately, my wife is back at our cabin with our kids while I try to find the one wi-fi hotspot– warm spot at best– in the hotel lobby. For the country that invented the cell phone, they’re very stingy with sharing the technology. The truth is, I know I’m exhausted- I have been over-planning every day since I’ve been here. We had a driver today for 11 hours. Let me spell that out: ELEVEN HOURS. I haven’t worked a total of 11 hours in the past 70 days, and I hired Moshiko to drive my family around for 11 hours today. How freaking stupid am I?

Today we traded the assassin/spy/Adam Sandler’s supermodel cousin look-alike for Franny– the girl my wife and I both wish we were. If you didn’t know Franny’s name, you’d probably call her Franny until you found out that you were right. Franny is the girl you date right after college but you don’t marry because the timing isn’t right but you always wonder what happened. She’s a hippy, but not dirty, cute but not beautiful, high energy but not annoying, multi-lingual but not in the way where she says things like, “how do you say orange juice?” when she was born in Memphis. Franny was also great with our daughter. Great in the way that I wish I was.

There’s a vilage near here that dates back over 2,000 years, with preserved roads, baths, houses, synagogues, mosaics, the center of Israeli society after the Romans sacked Jerusalem. It’s an important piece of history and archaelogy which is precisely the reason we didn’t go there– or any of the other one million plus ancient sites nearby where we’re staying– but instead went to another Bible story recreation park. This one subsituted donkeys for camels, but the story was the same: the Jews were about to get their asses kicked so we had to wear polyester tunics, make our own cheese (or pita) and high-tail it down a well-worn path on an uncomfortable animal until we got to a clearing where we had pre-arranged sweet tea and dessert. Whereas the last one we did was in the desert, this was in the mountains, so the scenery was different. But the kids were the same: Caleb ran to milk the goat, Sasha was cautious. Caleb was first to grab his donkey, Sasha was cautious. And I was the same, too– frustrated.

Enter Franny. Without knowing any of our history, Franny had an incredible ease with our kids, especially Sasha. Instead of barking from across the Biblically-accurate goat paddock, “Just grab the damn teat!” she played games to try to get her to come out of her shell. Maybe it’s because Franny had no stakes in family dynamic, or maybe because she’s closer in age to Sasha than to me, or maybe it’s that Franny has her own freedom, the freedom that compelled her to get out of our touring van and hop onto the highway to hitchhike three hours home tonight, but whatever it was, I don’t have that with my kids– especially my girl. What I wouldn’t give to be able, without any frustration or anxiety, to say to my daughter, “Just put on the Biblical costume. Yeah, it’s silly, I feel silly too.” It’s a time of year where I’m supposed to celebrate freedom, but I get so locked up in a battle of wills– trying desperately to get my way, the right way– while convincing my kids that it comes from a place of love.

But I don’t think I’ll ever have that freedom. If I hopped out of a van to hitchhike or didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night, I’d be arrested. I hope someday to be able to find that spark that Franny had with my girl– but in the meantime, I’m happy that I’m going to be able to go back to my dry cabin and kiss my sleeping daughter on the head knowing that tomorrow, while Franny is wandering through the desert, my family and I will be hiking through an ancient village carved into thousand foot high cliffs. And by that I mean, going to a Bibilical-era olive press and milking sheep.

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April 21, 2011 at 11:29 am

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Day 67

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It’s 11:00 at night and my eyes are cloudy with smoke and fatigue. Shawni and Sasha have been asleep for at least an hour while Caleb and I went to a bonfire/drum circle. I begged him not to go but Caleb doesn’t miss out on anything. Caleb is Intrepid. Sasha is Shy. Shawni is an Angel. I am Neurotic. For some reason, I am very aware of labels today. Maybe because I got to spend a lot of time with my daughter today and really, really tried to connect with her. I think I spend so much time trying her to be the person I want her to be, at the expense of letting her be the person she is, which is, in the broadest sense of the word, Shy.

Sasha and I got to spend so much time today because our ATV got stuck while we were crossing a river. I know, it doesn’t seem like me, and it seems even less like Sasha. But after she got done complaining that her pink crocs get a spot of mud on them and there was an ant on her leg, she was actually laughing as we tried backing up out of a muddy river bed. There is nothing sweeter to me than her laugh, and I’m guessing that if I didn’t pressure her so much to smile I would hear it more often. So, how did Mr. Neurotic and Ms. Shy get stuck in a river bed? Let’s start with a Tale of Two Jews.

The first is our hero, at 5 ‘8 1/2″ and let’s call it 180 pounds of somewhat toned 45 year old sitcom writer. The second is Alon, our tour guide today. He is 5’ 10″ 170 pounds of former IDF special forces commando/assassin. In the movie of 100daysoff he will be played by Adam Sandler, although my wife was quick to point out, “Maybe Adam Sandler’s supermodel cousin.” Okay, relax Shawni. Now, on the surface, it seems like Alon and I have a lot in common: we’re Jewish guys, and… that’s it. Alon makes bad guys “disappear” while I made my wedding ring disappear. Alon carries a 9 millimeter semi-automatic gun, I carry 9 room keys because I keep thinking I’ve lost them whereas they’re really in my wallet. Alon puts his life on the line to defend his country, I… get annoyed that I can’t bring more than three ounces of hand cream on a flight.

But Alon doesn’t consider himself a hero, it’s just what he does. Like what I do is I’m a sitcom writer. It’s just that objectively his job seems more important; in fact, everybody who lives here has the same job– to fight for their country. And as I’ve discovered, a job is what gives you your identity, I think especially for a man. I’ve tried to focus my time off on having my job be being a better father, but honestly, I would have gotten fired from that job by now if anyone was paying attention. Anyway, my job as a sitcom writer allowed me to be able to afford hiring Alon to be my guide today. I left the itinerary to him; afterall, any guy who can live undercover as an Arab woman in the West Bank for two weeks has my complete confidence.

First up was a trip to his village where a decent house costs as much as my Prius. The main industry of this village– aside from a teepee reservation for some reason– is a dairy farm. As we drove to his village, past wild horses and acres and acres of open farmland, he told us that he leaves his house open and keys in his car without any fear. Now, the fact that he could kill a man with a blade of grass might be part of his comfort in doing so, but I wondered aloud if I could live that kind of life. I then told Shawni what she deemed to be “the funniest thing [I’ve] ever said: “If we lived here, I’d be a farmer. Or maybe a cowboy.” I don’t know why she thought that was funny, I was dead serious. I pictured working the fields and it seemed realistic–I had more hair and a mustache, but it was basically me.

As we got to the dairy farm, I was already trying on chaps in my mind. You know, relaxed fit chaps. Alon said something in Hebrew to the woman who was giving the tour and her eyes lit up. She interrupted her speech to say that we had a very important guest in the crowd. It didnt seem like Alon to blow his cover like that, but he was impressive. She then looked at me and said, “that man is a writer for ‘Friends’. There was a brief moment of confusion as people translated for their friends and family and then everyone on the tour turned and looked at me. A chubby kid even had his mother take a picture next to me.

The moment of course, was extremely awkward, and only made worse when after every attempt at a joke the leader of the tour said,
“you can use that in ‘Friends'”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Friends is no longer in production and even if it was, I left after the second season. Although I am curious to hear what the Hebrew was for, “why would you leave a hit show like that, you idiot?” So there it was, my identity: Friends writer. More impressive than assassin and guaranteed more impressive than cowboy/farmer.

But not having any job, especially on a non-extant show like Friends, I still try to make my job– at leasat for the next month or so– be to be the better father. So when Alon took us to the ATV place, and we were picking cars, I grabbed Sasha to be my co-pilot. I knew she would say she didn’t want to go, or that she wanted to drive with Mommy or were we sure that this was the right place. But it didn’t matter. It was my time to be a hero. And as our car got stuck in the muddy water and we had a joke fight about whose fault it was, and she laughed while filming our tires spin, that’s exactly how I felt: a hero. Now, to figure out how to explain to her that I no longer work on “Friends”.

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April 20, 2011 at 12:55 pm

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Day 66

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I made two grim discoveries today. The first is that the pungent smell that followed me everywhere I went on my trip to Africa 12 years ago, may have in fact come from me. It might be the time change coupled with desert weather and a lot of moving around, but I smell like a Masai Warrior. The second is that I think I lost my wedding ring again. This will be the second one that I have lost permanently. I emphasize permanently because the last two things I say to my wife every morning after “I love you” are “Have you seen my wedding ring?” and “Nevermind, found it.” I asked the same thing this morning to our waiter last night, but Mustafa either didn’t know what I was talking about or he’s hiding something. Either way, I think it’s gone. By the way, the fact that I smell like a Masai Warrior makes my wife a prime suspect for throwing it out.

I didn’t have to wait that long for the other shoe to drop on my Paradise here overlooking the Sea of Gallilee. And when it dropped, it landed on a giant mosquito. Make no mistakes, we are camping here. It may be considered luxury camping, but we are in the mountains and bugs like the mountains. We are here primarily because my wife likes the mountains and I wanted to take her someplace that reminds her of her home state, Oregon. This is as close as Israel gets to Oregon except with more Jews and fewer pine trees and meth labs. But both places are beautiful. Having to deal with the occasional mosquito that has threatened to carry off my daughter and trying to navigate the air conditioner in our cabin that has two settings: really cold and really, really cold are small prices to pay to be in such a beautiful setting.

I made the comparison to camp yesterday and it still holds, except that in camp I got to kiss girls. Traveling with kids essentially robs me of any chance to make this a romantic vacation, even as our cabin looks out right now onto a serene lake bordered by shimmering lights under a full moon. We might as well be in a slaughterhouse. My kids are seven feet away from us in a tiny closet with a paper-thin door that will open in about ten minutes when Caleb decides it’s time to spoon mommy. This is a slightly bigger price to pay, but I’m having such a good time that it’s one I grin and bear. Well, bear.

Last night was our traditional Passover seder. We had it in a dining room with a family we were put with because we’re both from LA, although they live here in Israel now. Most people understand Passover as the holiday whose origins are depicted in the classic Cecil B. deMille epic, The Ten Commandments. We Jews celebrate that story by eliminating bread from our diets (for those of us who still eat carbs) for 8 days- 7 in Israel. For religious Jews, the ban against bread results in a wholesale scrubbing of the house, a whole new set of dishes and utensils, and covering every eating surface with enough tin foil to give you an instant tan when you enter the house. For religious Jews with some extra money, this can be avoided by going on a Passover program where everything is done for you. That’s where we are now. The upside is that you don’t have to do anything but eat and eat a lot. The downside is that it doesn’t have the feeling of a holiday associated with being around screaming family. Indeed, while we had a great time last night, and both kids made us proud, Shawni and I did have a small sadness that we weren’t with family. Of course, if we were with family there would be the usual yelling and arguing and swearing that “Next year in a Passover program!”

Today was mostly a day of rest, at least for Sasha and Shawni who spent most of the day in our cabin trying to fight the cough that I gave them. Caleb, on the other hand, was literally bouncing off the walls, which meant no rest for me. As I alluded to, we don’t know anyone here, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. He’s fearless in terms of playing with new kids. We played volleyball against little Israeli kids who only used their feet and who cheered him on even as he missed nearly every ball. He didn’t feel the same sense of shame that I felt when they gave me the same “Ooh, nice shot” after a ball caromed off my wrist into Syria.

Anyway, I should get going. Tomorrow is another tour day and if you listen closely you will be able to hear one of my kids saying,
“I’m tired!” while the other one says, “I’m bored!” while a third member of our family asks, “Have you seen my ring?” and my wife considers all the choices she made in her life that brought her here.

Written by 100daysoff

April 19, 2011 at 10:49 am

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Day 65

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I’m posting this early in case I don’t have the chance to do it later. We’re leaving Jerusalem for a hotel in the Golan Heights that no one– not even our tour guide who has worked every inch of this very small land for 30 years– has ever heard of. But I’m not worried: I booked it on the internet, what’s the worst that could happen?

I’m starting the next week off in a great way: I am not bothering my daughter at all, I even ordered her hot chocolate so she didn’t have to ask our sweet waitress named Jasmine, like the Princess in Alladin. This is the new “laid back” Jeff and everyone seems to like him. I should go, we were almost sideswiped by a bus, so our cab driver pulled up next to the bus and they started yelling at each other, then finished their indecipherable conversation with “Happy Holiday”. This is the third or fourth encounter I’ve seen like this and seems to embody the Israeli spirit: screw you, happy holidays. Anyway, I should go, my driver just asked where we’re going. He was born here and hasn’t heard of it. Again, the new laid back Jeff is fine with it. More later. Hopefully.

UPDATE: I want to clarify, especially after talking to my wife who wants to make sure that I fairly represent our sweet, sweet daughter who has now found her sorts now that she is more acclimated to the time change and whose father is less oppressive. I want to be able to show this journal to my kids some day as a love letter to them, not as a way to embarrass them– except the inevitable feelings reading about their father’s inadequacies. That’s all for now. I have to go. I think we just entered Jordan.

UPDATE: Since you are reading this it means that two things have happened: I did NOT book a cabin in Syria and, more importantly, I have managed to successfully navigate the technology to actually post something.

I want to write this while things are great– before the meltdowns (mine) because my daughter won’t read the things she’s been preparing two months for, and before my son screams across the dining room, “This is boring”. And most significantly, before my wife tires of me making fun of her body: upon leaving our hotel in Jerusalem, we had the bellman take a picture of our family–something I always do even though I’ve never seen a single one of these pictures. Upon seeing the picture my wife said,
“Holy cow, I look obese.” No one has sympathy for a size 2 woman saying she loks obese. I took the camera, “Let me see that– holy cow you’re huge!” My wife was wearing a loose, comfortable dress that falls straight from her shoulders somewhere past her knees, but somehow when she leaned forward to get in the picture, only the bottom of the dress moved, making her look like she’s 300 pounds. I, of course, like the picture because I happen to look thin in it, probably by comparison. Always the sensitive man, I have been consistently ribbing my wife about it, trying to stretch my arms around her to hug her and talking about how I like a big woman. It got old after the second joke and there have been 50 since.

But right now, things are perfect. The “resort” I booked for us is fantastic. I put “resort” in quotes because it’s hardly a Four Seasons. Maybe a season and a half, tops, but it’s nestled in rolling hills of vineyards overlooking the Sea of Gallilee. We are staying in a cabin where we have the above view. The place seems like the third thing Israel thought of after it captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 was to build a summer camp, and this was the result. It is casual and clean and if I got to fool around behind the rec hall, I would be back in the Berkshires circa 1983.

So that’s it, I’m going to check in on my giant wife and then try to get a nap before everything falls apart. But right now, I’m enjoying things being perfect.

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April 17, 2011 at 10:32 pm

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Day 64

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It was on our last trip to Israel, when Shawni and I first noticed our daughter manifesting her social anxiety. Back then, without the benefit of all the psychologists and psychiatrists we’ve spoken to, my reaction was pure frustration mixed with a little anger. Now, two years later, I am glad to say that… my back is smooth. We knew bringing her to a new country with a time zone change that if it was any bigger would be smaller, it was likely that it would take her more than the six hours I allotted for her to acclimate. But this being the Land of Miracles, I held out hope. Unfortunately, the miracles are reserved for smaller things like winning wars and splitting seas.

The time change has had a really dramatic effect on our girl. Whereas my son deals with this problem by going to sleep LA time and waking up Israel time, Sasha has been a wreck in the morning. This morning was particularly hard because I had (over)booked us for a really fun day. Sasha woke this morning exhausted and did not rally (she’s not a rallier) and said she didn’t want to go. One of my greatest challenges as a father is knowing when to push my kids and when to fold. I don’t want to be the tyrant father who makes their kid do objectively fun things, but I also don’t want to let my plans be dictated by a nine year old. This challenge is exacerbated when one of the parties is being extremely whiny and the other one planned a really cool day of camel riding, ATV driving and a tour of a bullet factory– I don’t want to name names but I was not the whiny one.

Shawni and I decided that there were certain things our kids would have to do by themselves- order a hot cocoa if they want one– and some things we would decide to do for them– a super fun day planned by Daddy. As our morning unfolded and my daughter did not relent in her drive to not go and had, indeed, gone to 9 on the
‘if it was still okay to smack a kid I would do so’ meter, Shawni approached me: “I’m going to propose something and hear me out before you jump–” “THERE’S NO WAY YOU’RE STAYING BACK WITH HER! I PLANNED A REALLY FUN DAY!” Shawni then thanked me for almost waiting for her to finish her sentence before jumping in. The truth is, while we didn’t want to cave to a 9 year old vacation terrorist, we also didn’t want to deal with someone who would be making a potential scene. I took a breath and told Shawni I agreed that she should stay back with Sasha– despite my incredible parenting training, Sasha and I would have wound up on Israeli CNN had I stayed back at the hotel.

Now, of course, as soon as I left to go pick up the rental car Sasha said she wanted to go– but only to the first part, something called “Genesis Land” where you got to ride camels and bake pita with people from the Bible (I know, fun, right?!) I told Sasha it was a package deal, or all nothing. She had a melt down and I said she couldn’t come. I realized a long time ago that you can’t threaten a kid with something that you can’t back up, and the more important lesson that you shouldn’t threaten a kid with something that is a punishment for the other parent, like when I told my kids no tv for the entire Sunday, the day they get to watch an hour of tv, then left them with Shawni while I went to yoga. Even though I knew I would be punishing Shawni by leaving Sasha with her all day, I also knew that once I drew the line there could be no compromising.

So here’s what the compromise was: we would all go to Genesis Land, then on an ATV ride through the Judean Desert, then drop Shawni and Sasha off at the hotel while Caleb and I went to a bullet factory. I know we should have been stronger, but Genesis Land was one of the favorite things we did on our last trip here four years ago, in no small part because we got to feed a newborn camel, Mazel, from a bottle. Let me tell you something, there’s nothing cuter than a newborn camel; I think we in America miss out because we have so few of them. Anyway, our plan was to reunite with Mazel. Of course, I was expecting the kind of reunion reserved for South African lesbians and the lions they rescued, but to be honest, we weren’t that far off. Mazel (or at least the camel they told us was Mazel after they heard our story) greeted us and let her pet her nose and my wife SWEARS that she has a picture of Mazel smiling. We may photoshop Mazel’s smile onto Sasha’s face for our album.

After that it was an ATV ride through the Judean Desert which was magnificent. I chose to go with Caleb in my car, because I think sometimes I do things with Sasha to spend time with her and I try way too hard to bond and it backfires. Caleb is just a fun-loving goofball who’s game for pretty-much anything. RIght now he’s going through a phase where he’s very sensitive to different tactile sensations, but I told Shawni that we have reached our limit on Crazy in our family, so if wants to get treated for something he’s going to have to get someone else to give up one of theirs. It’s my own version of Idiosyncracy Cap and Trade.

As a side note, I have to tell you, Israel is one of the most culturally, geographically and religiously diverse places I’ve ever been to. The soldiers who are too young to be my children, or pretty much gorgeous across the board. It’s an old joke, but the physical and psychological difference between the Israeli soldier Jew and the Sitcom writer must challenge every genetic theory available. I’m convinced that if an alien landed and was instructed to bring down one “Jew”, and I was standing next to the tan, blonde hair, green-eyed soldier that was waiting for a bus next to the restaurant I was eating at, the alien would have to take us both because he couldn’t imagine we were both the same species.

In any case, tomorrow is another day– and a really long one at that. The holiday of Passover starts tomorrow so my writing will be interrupted and unleavened for a little while. It’s a holiday where you’re supposed to teach your children the meaning of Freedom. My children have taught me so much, I just want them to know that I’m just trying to prepare them to have a better life, and not want their freedom from me. And if that doesn’t work, punish them. Punish them hard.

Written by 100daysoff

April 17, 2011 at 11:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized