Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fumbling along in Hebrew

Something unremarkable and awesome happened today. Arriving early to gather the girls from gymnastics class, I found another mother waiting, and I sat down and chatted with her for twenty minutes or so. That’s not the remarkable part—although I am shy and wary of people I don’t know well. What made it unusual for me was that we conversed in Hebrew. We talked about our kids and their schools, and about how difficult it is for a parent to have enough alone time and still do important things like sleep. I asked her twice to explain words I didn't know. She gently corrected my grammar a couple of times. She didn't once offer to switch to English, although I think she speaks it as well as most Jerusalemites.

This kind of exchange almost never happens to me. I have lived in Israel for two years. I spent ten months in ulpan, studying Hebrew intensively three mornings a week. I finished at the highest level. I can read the newspaper with ease, seek help in a medical crisis from the on-call nurses’ line, understand most of what people say to me. I refuse to speak English with shopkeepers or anyone else I encounter in commercial dealings. But all of the conversations that really matter to me, conversations about ideas and feelings, those are always in English.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Yesterday, my daughters asked to watch videos of themselves as babies. I’m so grateful to a past version of myself for making these videos; I love watching them as much as the kids do.

In one of the videos, I filmed a long sequence of the girls at play. In the clip, a two-year-old Y.B. stands at her play kitchen “feeding” a doll in a high chair. She works with great solemnity and contemplation, crooning to the babydoll, offering it various treats from an array of pots and pans.

All the while, the onscreen A.N. is a blur of activity. She pushes a chair around the kitchen, crowing. She swings her stuffed lamb in my hanging silverware caddy. She pulls her potty down the stairs and tries to interest Y.B. in “taking a bath” in it.

Watching this video rips me up a bit. These little people are familiar to me: Baby Y.B. with her seriousness and nurturing, Tiny A.N. plotting zaniness. But these two-year-olds are also gone forever—Y.B.’s round, soft cheeks; A.N.’s staggering walk. I will probably never have two-year-old twins again. And these particular girls will definitely never be two again.