Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I was discussing with a friend of mine the possibility of writing a guest post for her well read blog A Mother in Israel.  I started writing something when I was up very late at night.  I don't know if it's worth posting, or if her blog is the right place, but I thought I would leave it here in the mean time:

You’ve heard the term Sabra?  It’s Hebrew for the cactus fruit known as a prickly pear and the term is used to describe native Israelis: prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside.   It doesn’t take much to uncover the sweet, friendly, inquisitive fruit of the Jewish people.  This makes social encounters much more interesting, especially as the mother of a special needs child.  Once you’ve made a connection with someone, (“You’re from America?  I have an aunt in New York.”  Or, “Have you been waiting long? Me too.”) it’s fair game to ask questions like, “How old are you?” “Where do you live?” “How much do you pay for your apartment?” and “What’s wrong with her?” 

The truth is, I prefer this candor to the alternative I might face in America, chatting to a mother while wondering if she’s noticed my baby is different.  I also prefer this to other people who don’t realize what a child my daughter’s age is usually doing and try making naïve small talk.  It happened more when my daughter was a little baby.  Strangers would say, “she’s so big,” or, “she’s so aware/interested,” when she was particularly not those things.  I realize these can be generic compliments, but it’s such a stretch from the truth, it’s hard to be gracious. 

In Israel there is a beautiful and annoying concept of children being raised by the community.  It is nice when you’re busy nursing a baby at the park, your older child falls down, and another mother runs to help.  It is annoying when your son is crying, not because he fell off the swing, but because a stranger is talking to him.  It is irritating when strangers are telling you to add oil or honey to your baby’s bottle to fatten her up, when it’s enough of a challenge to get her to suck and swallow.  It is aggravating when strangers keep stopping you to let you know your baby’s hat has fallen over her eyes, when you want to reply, “She likes it that way, she doesn’t see much anyway.”  (Try taking the hat off when it seems nice warm, and every bubbe you pass will lecture you about bundling up the baby.)  And it is infuriating when medical professionals and caregivers think it is okay to ask, “Why don’t you know Hebrew yet?” And you want to cry and say, “I spend half my week sitting around hospitals and doctors’ offices, when would I have had time to learn Hebrew?!?  And you of all people should understand what I’ve been through!”

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