Thursday, April 6, 2017

Not Enough Diapers

When I was about 7 months pregnant with my son, I was offered and accepted the opportunity to spearhead the design of the school’s new website to complete my teaching contract. This opportunity was afforded to me because In 2000, I graduated from the first New Media Journalism class at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Even back then, I could see the decline of newspapers and knew my print media degree from Indiana University was not going to mean a secure career. I was right. Although since the election of Donald Trump, online subscriptions to newspapers and magazines have skyrocketed, still, during the last recession, almost everyone I knew in the business lost their jobs or changed careers.
I was trained in Dreamweaver, some HTML, Photoshop, and a bit of Flash. My first job after grad school was working for a  website that covered news of the US Supreme Court. However, while getting my New Media degree I had already decided to become a teacher. And although I obviously went in that direction, still, life has always brought me back to this 21st century form of media. Even at my first school I was in charge of technology and the e-newsletter. At my last job, I updated the website and wrote very simple code for the back end of a database.
So here I was, history repeating itself, my third year at my new school, working on the school web site. Only, this time I had a two year old, an infant, and a husband who travelled a lot, and when he was home, was busy on training calls in the evening.
On such an evening, my husband and I had double booked training conference calls.  However, we determined that I would take the baby during my call; luckily, our toddler daughter would be asleep. The baby would also probably just sleep or I could feed him. Although a terrible sleeper, he was a happy, easy going baby. My conference call was with the hosts and “designers” of our web site. I put “designers” in quotes because they really expected us to do all of the work. So, I needed to be trained on how to use their web site development tools. The company is in the USA and the conference call has to be scheduled at night in Israel.
Like any multitasking mom, I came prepared for the call. I looked over the development tools and I had 10 diapers, a pack of wipes, and a bottle ready. I had enough juice in my computer, and it was plugged in. The internet was working well. I also had my hippy mom wrap in case the baby needed to be held the entire time and burp cloths. I was ready.
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It was time for the videoconference to begin. I logged onto Skype. It would be just Tina and me. Although we would be using Skype, it was against their company’s policy for me to see whoever I was talking to. I can only imagine the origins of said policy, but it made for odd communication. However, by the end of this training call I was grateful for said policy.
When the Skype tune sang, I closed my other tabs, so that I could use the time well and focus.
“Hi, Sharna, I’m Tina, corporate trainer.”
“Hi Tina, nice to meet you.”
“Are you ready to get started?”
“Yes,” I said.
At that moment the baby burped. I’m referring to him as the baby because he no longer resembles that tiny, tiny, helpless infant that he was then.
“What was that?” she said.
“Oh, I’m here with my son. He just burped. But he’s very good. He’ll be quiet,” I said.
Now, you can tell a lot about a person by what she says next after learning that you are doing business with your child in the room.  If she asks “how old is he?” or “does he have siblings” the person would be working-mom friendly. If she doesn’t, she probably isn’t. It isn’t indicative of whether or not she has kids if she is working-mom friendly. Frankly the most intolerant people of working moms are not single women or stay at home moms, but other working moms.
“I see,” she said, not hiding her disappointment.
“Do you have kids?” I asked cheerfully, hoping that my theory was wrong.
“Yes, they are with their nanny,” she said a bit condescendingly.
Tina was probably the type to make sure she and her spouse’’s schedules didn’t conflict, and if they did, she would have the proper child care arranged, and a backup for that child care, etc.
“Let’s get started,” she said.
At first, I was very attentive and the baby was fine. But like storm clouds on the horizon,  his face grimaced and turned red.
“Now our web site is very user friendly. I’m going to show you what every button and icon mean and how to use them,” Tina said getting more excited with every word. “This horizontal icon…”
And that’s when the gas began. He sounded like a steamboat featuring a fireworks show. I raced to mute the audio and did as Tina continued not missing a beat even with the loud noises coming from my end, or I guess the baby’s end.
While the gas was embarrassing, it was manageable as long as I could mute my audio. But every time Tina would ask me a question like, “Do you see how your school could use the multimedia feature?,” I’d have to press unmute the button to answer, and the baby would pass gas, which as the call progressed was getting worse and worse. The noise emerging from him sounded as if I had put a microphone and amplifier in his diaper. But what was strange is that Tina never reacted to the noise, never once asked what was going on. There was no nervous giggle. No sigh. Nothing.
The sounds emerging from the baby continued at their alarming decibels when suddenly his face tightened, tightened, and tightened some more until a look fell over him that again was new and alarming.
Then came the loudest sound of all, a cargo ship pulling into port if you will, followed by a rancid smell that I can only describe as bile mixed with phosphorous.
“Now, we recommend that you include action buttons on every page,” Tina said as the baby began to unleash the biggest poop of his life. At first, I was relieved. I’ll just change him and it will be over. So I grabbed wipes and diaper, still listening to Tina, cleaned him up, but the poop wouldn’t stop. It came out like a yellow and green snake hiding part of itself in the bushes. At first, it just seemed like a regular snake poop, but this poop was the king snake of the jungle. I started catching the poop with diapers, but understand, that infant diapers are very small. They are not meant to handle a king snake.
Tina continued, “Action buttons are typically red, but some of our customers use other colors. I don’t recommend it though.”
I had brought in 10 diapers for the conference call and had gone through them all. So I took out a disposable changing pad and decided to just let the snake come out as it would.
“Sharna, do you plan on using action buttons?”
I unmuted the audio surrounded by tiny diapers and a disposable changing pad filled with poop, “Yes, (insert terrible pooping sound) I believe so.”
“Good, so let me tell you about another feature,” Tina said.
Ten diapers, two packets of wipes, and five disposable changing pads later, the epic poop was finished. I also had poop on me, so I  rubbed antibacterial alcohol gel on my body and on the computer. The baby was exhausted. I put on my hippie mommy wrap and inserted him in the little pouch. At this point he was wearing a diaper I had fashioned out of a burp cloth and put together with safety pins. I knew I would end up with pee all over me, but I needed to get through this training phone call.
“Okay, Sharna, now it’s time for the quiz,” Tina said, very seriously.
“Quiz?” I asked after I unmuted the computer.
“Yes, you must get the majority of questions correct or you will have to repeat the seminar, which will be at an extra cost to you school,” she said, suddenly sounding like a driver’s ed instructor
“Really, a quiz, is this necessary?” I asked feeling the drops of warm pee sieve through the makeshift diaper.
“It’s corporate policy,” Tina said.
Ok, I can do this.
“Which color button do you move when you want to publish a page?”
“Green,” I answered definitively
When uploading multimedia to the web site, what extra step must you take?
“Compression?” I answered.
“No, you must click yes that you would like it uploaded.”
1-1. The baby was wet. I was wet with pee.”
“If you want to save your work, but not publish it, which button do you select?”
“The yellow one?” I asked.
“Nooooooo,” her voice rising in concern. “It’s orange.”
If you are uploading a photo to the site, what do you have to select to ensure that it’s uploaded?”
“Start upload now. “
“Now, you must get this next one right, or you will need to repeat the seminar, at an extra cost to your school.”
I pulled the wrap tight, focused on the screen, determined never to talk to this woman again for the rest of my life.
“If you want to tell call your viewers attention to the website to let them know something was important, what would you use?”
“What is an Action Button?”  I screamed like I had just won the lottery.
“Correct,”  she said, sounding relieved. “Well, Sharna, you just passed. Thank you for taking part in the training. Do you have any questions?”
“No,” I said, looking at all of this poop filled diapers and laundry.
“I also have great news for you,” Tina said. “This audio was recorded so that you can revisit this training it any time you are having problems.”
“Oh, that’s not necessary,” I said thinking about all of the gross sounds that would live forever as an MP4.
“Already emailed it to you,” Tina said cheerfully.
And then I prayed:
Dear Internet Gods, Wherever that audio is stored, please strike the server where it sits with lightning. Thank you.
After my prayer, I chucked all the diapers down the chute, bathed the baby, and went to see how long my husband had remaining on his conference call.  
There he was sitting at his computer reading the New York Times.
“Did your call end early?” I asked.
“No, it was cancelled,” he said, still staring at the computer. “Was the baby okay during the call? I would have taken him, but I didn’t want to interrupt.”

Thursday, November 17, 2016


I had one of the most moving experiences of my life today.
How does one qualify what is most moving?
Was it my first real kiss?
Or when my Bubbie taught me in my dream how to make a recipe and died two days later?
How about the February day my husband told me he loved me for the first time?
Our wedding day?
The birth of our children?
When my father received a liver transplant?
The first time my daughter said, “I love you mommy.”

Perhaps how I feel will change upon reflection, but today I think what happened to me has no competition, as it shook me to my core. Two years ago, a person verbally attacked me. I can’t get into details, and maybe one day I will, but it was by all accounts verbal abuse and it lasted for several minutes. After the exchange, I felt unprotected and unvalidated by the people around me. Perhaps it was because they didn’t hear or witness all of it. They didn’t see the person’s rage or hear their accusations. No one heard the person question my integrity and the essence of who I am.
There were two witnesses: she and I. And the scar that remained after the berating was just something that I would have to get over, like a fall off of a bike or a bad breakup.
And I did get over it. My life didn’t change after that incident. However, the part of my heart where my spirit lives endured the virus that was the person’s anger. In  life, you catch many viruses. Hopefully, most are cured, but some stay in your system, waiting to be awakened by another bully, heartbreak, or injustice.
I knew I would be seeing the person today, and my anxiety levels were high. So when the person didn’t come on time to our meeting, I was relieved. However, 10 minutes later the person strode in and I began to feel my palms and underarms sweat. How much sleep would I lose from this meeting? Would there be a scene? How would I handle it?
As the person approached, instead of sitting across from me at the table, the person came to my side and said, “I need to give you a hug and a big apology.”  The person admitted that he/she had been avoiding me for two years. The person was embarrassed by what the person had done and that I hadn’t deserved the tongue lashing. I held back tears as the person spoke, feeling the injury dissipate. I accepted her apology. I said that I had always know I was just the vestibule for her misplaced anger, and that her motivations were out of love for someone else, not hatred toward me. However, I allowed the person to speak her peace and did absolve the person of his/her actions.  Because they were not ok. But I did forgive the person completely and totally, and told the person not to think about it beyond that day.
I have been wronged in my life. I don’t think I’ve been wronged more than the average person. Actually, if I were to guess, I’ve probably been wronged by less people than most. However, before today, of the people who mistreated me only two have ever apologized. And those apologies were extremely insincere without taking responsibility for their actions.
The person today completely atoned for the misdeed. And even being beyond grateful that the person acknowledged the pain I had experience, it was extremely humbling to watch someone admit their failings and ask for forgiveness.
Perhaps in a world where newsmakers apologize only after polling constituents or conducting focus groups, I was party to a rare event, like a Supermoon. Only the bright light came from within this person’s heart and will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Happy Birthday

I had been waiting for you for a month when you arrived. I thought like your sister you would be early. And as every very hot day passed, I invited you to meet your dad and sister. I knew you would be a boy, and to be honest, I wanted a boy. I didn’t want to know your sex, but it was listed atop an early blood test. I was excited to meet you and impatient.  
8.5 months pregnant with your sister and cousin Talia
You weighed 6 pounds 1 ounce or 2.75 kg. 

So many prenatal tests. You were born in Israel, a country that must do more prenatal testing than any other. You even had an echocardiogram of your baby heart. After the doctor pressured me into an amniocentesis, I could see on a flat screen as the needle avoided your position in the womb. I felt bad for bothering you. The results came in and you would be, indeed, the perfect genetic specimen, at least the genes that they know about and can test for.

As I waited for you, I tried to figure out how I could breastfeed you because I was unable to do so  with your sister. I met with one if not the best breastfeeding experts in Israel. She and her staff were amazing. I credit them for the fact that I could breastfeed you, that I’m still breast feeding you. I wonder if I should put this in writing. Will you be grossed out? I hope that you will read this when someone is feeding your baby, and maybe it won’t bother you.

You were ready on your due date: August 13. At midnight, as I chatted online, I felt the pangs of back labor. I googled a contraction clock and timed them. At six minutes apart I woke your dad. Your Saba and Savta were staying over because I had planned to go into the hospital to try and get induced the next morning. My doctor wrote me a prescription to get induced, but it was really up to the hospital.

We decided to have the baby at the large hospital in Tel Aviv. There were closer alternatives, but I wanted to deliver at a place that did a lot of epidurals and would likely have English speaking midwives. Yes, in Israel, they use midwives, but you weren’t delivered by a midwife. More on that later.

We drove to the hospital happy that there was no traffic. I knew there would be a chance I wouldn’t be admitted. With your sister, my labor was slow. It took me forever to dilate. However, when we arrived at the hospital I was having horrible back labor. It was the worst pain I had ever experienced.

They admitted me and I shared a very small pre-labor room with another woman. We alternated moans. The nurse told me to sit on a ball or sit in the shower. Your father rubbed my back as I screamed. I’m not sure why, but after a couple of hours they allowed me to go to the birthing room. To my disappointment, the midwife did not speak English. We also did not gel. It was very difficult to do what she wanted, although your father translated well.

Finally the epidural came. It worked amazing for one hour. I sat with your father excited for your arrival. But after an hour the pain returned, and then returned more, and then returned fiercely. They upped my dose, but it didn’t work. The last hours of your labor and pushing you out were horribly painful. I know I’m not supposed to say that, but it was. Your father may have lost some of his hearing. When it was time to push, the midwife was very frustrated with me and called in the resident to help her with the delivery. I will never forget him, although I do not remember his name. He was soft spoken, calm, on the shorter side, with blue eyes. After one excruciating push and screaming he said to me calmly, “Screaming takes too much energy. Push without screaming and the baby will come out.” I listened to him and pushed you out.

You didn’t look very good. You were gray. I held you from a moment and then they whisked you off to the NICU. I wasn’t panicked though. The same thing had happened with your sister. I knew you would be okay.

They wanted me to stay in bed because of the after effects of the epidural. But I shot right up on my legs and jumped into the shower, despite the nurse yelling at me. I was ready to jog a 5K after your birth. I had never felt better.

But you weren’t doing as well as me. Your pulse oxygen was a little low and your heart rate was a little fast. The doctors weren’t sure what was wrong. I still knew you would be okay. They told me to go get some rest and I listened. I went back to the room I was now sharing with another new mom and her partner. Minutes into sleep I was awoken, shaken, by a nurse.

She said in Hebrew, “You need to get to the NICU now.”

She ran with me. A doctor took me aside and said in English, “We ran a blood test. Your son had too many red blood cells. His blood is too thick and could cause brain damage. You have five minutes to consent to a procedure which would replace some of his red blood cells with saline.”

“Where do I sign?” I said.

I signed the paper and called your dad. He had just gotten home, fell asleep, and then drove back to the hospital.

Meanwhile, the doctors set up a theater right in the NICU and rushed me to a separate waiting room.

While he was driving, I called my dear friend Dr. Jennifer Miller. I told her about his condition. She was with her father, a long time pediatrician, and his response was, “Tell her Mazel Tov.” I knew from that response that he wasn’t worried, so neither was I. I would later find out that you had gotten a partial exchange for polycythemia. It is still unclear why you had this. The treatment that they did was controversial. But it seemed to work.

You began to perk up with bottle feedings. It took me almost three months to breast feed without severe pain. Maybe I have a low pain tolerance. The lactation consultant said that it was the way that you were feeding and that I should take you to an Osteopathic Doctor for cranial treatment. But, I didn’t.  I didn’t want someone touching your head. I guess that was a bit provincial of me.

When you were two days old you met your sister. She fell in love with you at first site. I can honestly say she has only been jealous of you one or two times. She sometimes hugs you and says, “Benchuk, I love you so much.”

Five days after you were born your Zadie came to meet you.  He was the Sandek at your brit milah (ritual circumcision). So many people came: your dad’s whole family, my cousins,  and friends. I ordered way too much food. I mean way too much food. It was a really nice event. You slept through most of it.

We stayed home together for 14 weeks while I worked a little bit on a web site. You were a mostly quiet infant. You only cried when you were hungry or needed to poop. You were great on our trip to the US when you were nine weeks old. You met your aunts, uncles, cousins and Bubbie. Everyone loved you immediately. You were already smiling your big smiles that you are known for.  

After we returned from the US, and started day care you suffered with a lot of respiratory illnesses. You needed a nebulizer and at one point you were on five different medications. But once summer arrived, you were fine, and I hope that you will continue to be.

To be honest, I have struggled having two kids. You and your sister are great, but no one tells you how hard working and parenting are while maintaining a household, marriage, relationships, and staying emotionally and physically healthy. I will try to do better.

At almost 12 months old you have met all of your milestones early or on time. You’re still not walking quite yet, but I expect it will happen any day.

You love everything except sleeping in your own crib. I’m not sure you will ever sleep there. Right now you sleep for a few hours in a portable crib. That will have to do.

I know I’m making a lot of mistakes with your sleeping. You fall asleep breastfeeding. I don’t let you cry. But I don’t want to. I just don’t. I worry that I messing up. I worry about it all the time. But you look happy and you have quadrupled your birth weight.

You have so many people who love you and the women who you are named after, Grandma Birdy and Aunt Sharon are looking out from above. They would have loved you.

So Benjamin Shia Chacham, this is the story of the first year of your life.  One of the women at day care calls you (in Hebrew) “the prince.”  It’s a cute nickname, but you can grow up to be whatever and whomever you want.

Just know that your Mommy and Abba will always love you.

Happy Birthday.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Since My Last Haircut

Since my last real haircut
The one where everyone oos and ahs
that cost over a hundred dollars.
Since my last real haircut
I was engaged and married,
Filled with the humidity of love.
Birthed a child and then another.
Heard her say 'I love you so much, mommy.'
Since my last real haircut
I moved to another country and started a new job in an old career.
My gifts exploited by others while filled with self-doubt.
Lost friendships to distance replaced with Likes and Shares
Since my last real haircut
A good friend and an aunt have died
Leaving patches of emptiness that one is supposed to just move beyond.
Since my last real haircut
I heard warning sirens and saw rockets repelled in the sky
Minutes later returning to building a sand castle.
Since my last real haircut
The world has declined
Paris is Columbine
Hope is Trumped
Since my last real haircut
I’ve struggled being a mom of two.
The sleep deprivation that one is supposed to just move beyond.
My last real haircut was for me.
This one was for a child with cancer.
Everything is so heavy, but I feel lighter.

Since my haircut.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Rabin: The Mourning After ... Twenty Years Later

Much has been written recently about the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin as yesterday was the 20th anniversary of his murder.  Analysis has understandably focused on the effect of Rabin's policies given the current tensions between Arab and Israelis and how politics have changed in Israel since his death. 

In this article I spoke to several Israeli friends who were teenagers when Rabin was murdered. What were the days after Rabin's death like for them? How did his murder impact their lives? Do they still believe in his vision of peace or are they resigned to the conflict? Here are their answers. 

After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin on November 4, 1995  young people stood day and night at the site of which is now called Rabin Square to mourn the prime minister. They stood vigil with candles and were called “The Candle Children.” The photographs at the time depicted young people seemingly lost in darkness with a small flicker of light shining on their mournful faces.

However, not everyone who was young during Rabin’s assassination considered themselves part of the “Candle Children.” They or their families didn’t support his politics. Nevertheless, the assassination was the most impactful national event of their lives and the reverberations of the gunshot that ended Israel’s innocence can still be felt today.

Shahar, a tour guide from Pardes Chana took part in the rally and heard the shots. He went home after the rally and found out that Rabin had died. He returned the next day.

“The day after the assassination I arrived at the square and there were a lot of people who sang, lit candles, and wrote messages on the walls of City Hall,” Shahar said.

Children and teenagers who weren’t at the rally also remember where they were when they heard the news.

“I was at home watching the Peace Rally,”  said Tomer, the director of nonprofit outside Jerusalem. “After he was shot, there were reports on the news all of the time, but no one believed he would die. When it was announced that he died, we were so shocked.”

Lior, a graduate student, woke his parents up to tell them the news that Rabin had been shot.

“I remember my parents crying,” Lior said.

Lior visited the site of the assassination a few days later to light a candle.

“Children and teenagers from the youth movements filled the square,” Lior said. “The ones from Tel Aviv and the youth movements were there all of the time.”  

Efrat, a photographer from Eilat, didn’t go to Tel Aviv, but  did visit Rabin’s grave a few days after his death.

“I remember the days after the assassination were extremely sad days in Israel,” Efrat said. "Many people had faith in him wanting him to finally bring peace to our region. They didn’t think anyone else could fit in his shoes.”

The aftermath of the assassination was devastating for Israel and the peace process.

“Before he was murdered there was hope for peace,”  Tomer said. “After, the hope was replaced by a pessimism about the future of our nation and the possibility to conduct a real dialogue among people with different points of view.

Eran, an IT director from Ramat Gan did not support Rabin’s politics and in fact blames him for some of Israel’s problems today.

“I was right wing then, I am right wing today,” Eran said. “However, I was against his murder then and I am against his murder today.”

For Shahar, it propelled him to understand how important it is to be an active member of society.

“If you let other people get involved for you, that’s when disaster happens,” Shahar said.

So what exactly is Rabin’s legacy for the “Candle Children?”  

“He believed in giving everything of yourself for the sake of the state,” Tomer said. “ He believed that you have to fight to the end to protect the state, but also strive to change and reach out for peace.”

Lior agreed.

“He was a soldier and a general and towards the end of his life he realized that this particular conflict cannot be solved with military force,” Lior said.

Yariv, a banker in Tel Aviv,  lit a candle at the Square after Rabin’s murder. He said the lesson to Israel from the devastating event was “the importance of unity over being right.”

Shahar echoed Yariv’s sentiment. “Rabin always did what he thought was right for the country. He was always brave.”

Is the hope for peace gone? Perhaps for some it has dimmed, but for Efrat, she still envisions a better future and that one day  “there will be a genuine peace agreement that will open this amazing Middle East to the world where there are no real borders and anyone could come and visit and cross between countries like they cross between states in the US.”