Disney World – a toddler’s paradise or a British parent’s nightmare?

me and josh in disneyIn two months, we are scheduled to fly to the States for a couple of weeks to stay with my in-laws in New Jersey. For five days of that time, we will be in Disney World, continuing my in-laws’ tradition of taking their grandchildren (and their grandchildren’s harried parents) to Disney World during winter break. Those who joined me at the beginning of my journey in blogging might recall from my very first post my feelings about Disney World. And in case you have joined the party late, you can read all about my very first taste of Disney World when I was engaged to my husband, five years ago.

Growing up in England, I never really gave much thought to Disney World – I knew it existed, it contained a bunch of Disney characters, and like everything and everyone in America, it was huge. Well, all that changed at the age of 23, when I started dating my husband. Disney World came up a LOT in conversation in our first dates, and I got the feeling that if I were to pursue this relationship, I would become increasingly familiar over time with Disney World, if not by actually going there, then by being treated to Disney World trivia and trips down Disney lane. To my husband’s family, and to my husband in particular, Disney World is not just any vacation destination, but it is the Vacation of all Vacations. That became abundantly clear when I would dream out loud with my husband (then-boyfriend) of all the places in the world I wanted to travel with him, and instead of us visualizing gondolas and backpacking in Thailand, the conversation would invariably return to Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center. To his credit, he did agree to go to Italy if I could somehow recreate Disney World for him there – at that point, I realized that EuroDisney in Paris would be my best bet. In his words, “Why would you possibly want to go anywhere else in the world when there is EVERYTHING in Disney World?”

Joking apart, I did have an incredible time in Disney World when we went on our engagement trip, but I am not too sure if that is because I genuinely fell over head over heels in love with Disney World, or if it was by association -I was (and AM) in love with my husband, who was (and IS) in love with Disney World. Whatever the case, when I married Josh, it was with the acceptance of the centrality of Disney World in our lives, and it did not surprise me one bit when my father-in-law, who passed on his love of Disney World to his son, gave as a gift upon the births of my daughters the entire DVD collection of Disney movies. Gotta start them young, and sure enough, my four-year-old and even two-year-old girls make their father and grandfather proud as they sing the Disney songs joyfully and frequently. They know the movies and songs better than I do, which, granted, is not saying much. But still. No one could say they are not continuing the Weinstein legacy. Soon after my oldest daughter was born, my in-laws started planning how they would take all the cousins, and our daughter, when Eliana turned 4. Well, four years has passed and flown by, and my in-laws are making good on their promise. My girls are very excited to see Winnie the Pooh, and, as my two-year-old pronounces it, “Kicki Mouse.” My husband and father-in-law are as excited, if not more, at the thought of the upcoming trip.

As for my mother-in-law, well, whenever I speak to her after her annual Disney trip, she has lost her voice or is exhausted after preparing all the meals, getting the kids ready, running after them all day, putting them to bed, so her feet are more firmly on the ground, and she is not floating as high as the menfolk of the family.

And me? Well, does it make me a terrible wife, mother, and daughter-in-law if I say that I am approaching this trip with trepidation rather than excitement? Being in romantic la-la land is very nice when you are floating around Disney World with your fiance, with not a dirty diaper or cranky child in sight, but the prospect of taking my two- and four-year-old there fills me with an emotion close to dread. I imagine that I will need a good vacation after this “vacation.” It goes without saying that the kids will have a spectacular time, and that they will hopefully come back with great memories, which they can store up and then share with their boyfriends, please G-d, twenty (or forty years, if my husband had his way) years down the line, but truthfully, a nice calm vacation in England wouldn’t go amiss right now. Or Europe. I miss Europe.

Anyway, if anyone has taken a toddler and a pre-schooler to Disney World (you deserve a medal), and has any tips or hints that will help me preserve my sanity, please do share. Adios amigos.

What ever made me think I could drive in this country – Part II

The inside of my head feels like a construction site today. And just yesterday I was thinking to myself (I was smart enough not to voice this thought out loud in case I gave myself an ayin hara)  how nice it is that I have not been sick for a while. Seemingly, it isn’t enough to ward off superstition by refraining from verbalizing one’s thoughts – the thoughts themselves jinx you. Voila, today I am sick, and, of course, being British, am blaming it on the weather.

Well, all is not lost. I may not have the necessary concentration to work, but the show will go on, and here is Part II of my misfortune on the Israeli roads, the drama of which continues until this day. 

 So where were we? Aah, yes. Summer of 2005. Just two weeks before the birth of my second daughter, I had come through the worst, and was officially an Israeli driver. I wasn’t sure if this was something to be proud of – judging by the insane driving and amount of fatalities on the road in this country – but I was euphoric to finally have the independence I so craved, and never in my life thought I would be so elated at the prospect of being able to drive myself to the supermarket to buy a bag of milk.  I was not the only happy camper. After three years of Josh being the one who had to run all the errands single-handed, he was happy to relieve himself of the responsibility. Of course, I didn’t really have much opportunity to drive in the two weeks leading up to the birth, given my size and my extremely pregnant condition, and I could not drive for six weeks after the birth because of the c-section delivery, but the knowledge, the sweet knowledge, of knowing that if I wanted to drive, I could, made me a very happy woman.

Fast-forward a couple of months to December of 2005 – it was a Friday morning in Modiin, and wanting to beat the normal Friday craziness in the supermarkets, I headed out early in the morning to the supermarket to do some last-minute errands. On my way back, at 8.30, I approached an intersection, and came to a stop at the stop sign. So far, so good. Advancing past the stop sign, I looked to my left, and saw a car coming from a distance, but thought I had enough time to make it, and cross the intersection. Well, I didn’t. The car was speeding, and we collided. Thank G-d, no one was hurt. My car took the extreme brunt of the damage, while the guy’s car was only slightly dented on the left side. I was reeling from shock. Before I knew it, the police had arrived, and our cars were moved away to the side of the road. The first thought that entered my mind was: I am screwed, I am screwed. For the first year of having your license, you are supposed to have a “New Driver” sign on the rear window, but mine was lying unused in the trunk. All it would take was for a policeman to look at my driver’s license, and see that I had only passed the test a couple of months before, and I would really be in trouble. As it turned out, that was the least of my worries. The policeman did indeed take a look at my license, and remarked that I didn’t have the sign at the back of my car, but instead of bailing me out for it, he winked at me and said, “al tidag, beseder, beseder” (Don’t worry, it’s fine). In this case, playing the role of the helpless female worked wonders.

A couple of minutes later, Josh arrived at the scene after my frantic phone call, and we talked to the Russian guy whose car I collided into. As far as I could see, he could only gain from the accident. His car looked as if it was at least fifteen years old, and the insurance money he would receive from the accident could help him buy a new car. It looked as if it is was on its way out anyway. We didn’t fare as well. We had to replace the entire right side of our car for a hefty bill, even with the insurance. A very annoying situation, but we were philosophical about it. No one was hurt, we were just a couple of thousand shekel poorer, and life goes on. His speeding combined with my poor judgement caused the accident.

A couple of weeks later, I got a phone call from the guy’s insurance company. He had claimed that his entire car was a write-off, and they wanted to verify his story. His car was only slightly dented, but obviously shekel signs were flashing in front of his eyes, and he wanted to profit from the situation, so he made out that his car had been totally wrecked. I told the insurance agent in no uncertain terms that HIS car was fine – although I couldn’t say the same about my car.

So my insurance company battled it out against his insurance company, and we were issued with a notice that we had to go to court over it, and that we had to be present… I am sure you can guess from my “luck” this far the outcome of the case – the representative that was sent to court on behalf of my insurance company was an arrogant, oil-slicked teenager who looked as if he would be more comfortable as a DJ in a night club in Tel Aviv than in a court of law, and did not endear himself to the female judge who had obviously had had her fair share of swaggering insurance agents that day. So yet another defeat for us, and a letter arrived in our mail box just a couple of weeks later notifying us that they had “dropped” us, and that they would no longer give us insurance, since we had been in two accidents in two years. (The first “accident” happened a year before on our street in Jerusalem, when our car was parked outside our apartment, and a school wall came tumbling down at  7.30 in the morning, luckily injuring no children, but crushing our car.)  The injustice! How dare they just “drop” us like that? What is the point of having insurance if the minute you get into an accident, you are considered too much of a liability, and you find yourself insurance-less? Well, what choice did we have? We found another insurance agent who finally agreed to take us on, and although we weren’t as fully covered, at least we had insurance.

 If only this was the end of my sorry tale. In June of this year, a message on my cellphone informed “Hakhel” that his court case had been postponed till July 15. Having put the accident behind me, and thinking that the message was obviously not for me, since who in G-d’s name was “Hakhel”, I concluded that they had the wrong number, and felt sorry for the dude who was never informed of the change in date of his court case. Well, another phone call a week later confirmed that “Hakhel” was their way of pronouncing “Sorelle,” and that the message was indeed intended for my ears.

I tried to keep my voice even and calm when I spoke to the clerk, and thanked her for notifying me of the change in date in court case, but that I had no idea that there was even going to be a court case, and if she could please tell me what in G-d’s name she was talking about, I would be ever so grateful. The next five minutes of our conversation revealed that the State of Israel were prosecuting me for poor judgement in an accident that had occurred two years ago. Of course, I had never received the original letter from the court, so this follow-up phone call telling me that the case had been postponed was not exactly helpful. 

You gotta love Israel – the ENTIRE government at the time were being indicted for some crime or another, including the beloved prime minister, Olmert, and the head of the police, and I WAS BEING PROSECUTED FOR POOR JUDGEMENT?   

After recovering from the initial shock, my next phone call was to find a lawyer who could find out from the police what the story was – and what it was that I was being prosecuted for. Apparently, the other driver had not only claimed that his car was a write-off, but that he had to go to hospital because of injuries sustained as a result of the accident. Frustration turned into rage – it’s one thing for this guy to try to get rich out of the accident, but to claim that he was hurt was so outrageous and deceitful, he may as well have been claiming that night was day. My lawyer suggested that we work out some sort of plea bargain with the court, whereby I lose my license for a couple of months (that’s a compromise???), and that would be it.

The lawyer told me that the worst-case scenario would be for them to take away my license for three months, so I wasn’t quite sure why agreeing to them taking away my license for three months was a plea bargain – but he claimed that that was the best he could do given the fact that I was a new driver, and the cards were stacked against me. He did, however, assure me that there would be no fine. Okay, three months without a license – I had lived for this long without a license, life goes on. 

Well, to cut an extremely long story short, I arrive in court to find that not only was I going to be without my license for three months, but that I was going to be slapped with a NIS 1000 shekel fine. Apparently, my lawyer “forgot” – when he met with the prosecutor over coffee and croissants – to bring up the issue of the fine, and that was why, in essence, there was no plea bargain. I had paid $600 to an absolutely useless lawyer, and the prosecutor must have been laughing his head off at the results of the “plea bargain.” The lawyer did reassure me, though, that I could pay the fine in tashlumim – monthly payments. How very reassuring. NOTE TO SELF: Hire an Israeli lawyer, not a self-effacing British one. Well, I didn’t roll over meekly on this one – my husband and I insisted that the lawyer pay half the fine, and eventually he agreed, admitting that he had “forgot” to bring up the subject of the fine. There were TWO things the lawyer needed to discuss – the issue of my license being revoked for three months, and the fine – and out of those two things, he suffered amnesia, and forgot to deal with the money aspect.

I was told by the judge that I had to hand in my license to the court office, and pay the fine. Well, as I handed over my license – and my freedom – to the faceless woman behind the desk, my heart started to pound as she told me that she could not take my license, since it had expired just two days before. The three-month clock could not start ticking until I renewed my license, and then return to the court to hand it in. Exercising extreme self-restraint by stopping myself from having a nervous breakdown right then and there, I asked her calmly and slowly where I could renew my license in the area, and she told me where, but with one caveat – the Ministry of Transport were on strike, and I could not renew my license until they resumed work. So I had to wait an extra FIVE days until they deigned to get up from their strike and join the rest of the workforce before I could renew my license, and begin the three-month period of my driverless status.

I suppose I should have realized two weeks ago, on October 31st, when I finally got my license back, that that wouldn’t be the end of it. Just this morning, I was delivered a letter informing me that I have to take a twelve-hour course on basic driving, followed by an exam at the end.

So do you think someone’s trying to tell me something?

   

A catalogue of car woes – is someone trying to tell me something?

Sometimes I wonder if it just isn’t meant to be. Me. Driving. Behind the wheel.

As of today, I am now back behind the wheel. Now that my three-month period of being an intolerable backseat driver has drawn to a close (my poor long-suffering husband!), I can “talk” about the experience with some degree of perspective. In July of this year, my license was taken away for three months, and I was fined 1000 NIS, for an accident that happened two years’ ago, on a cold December morning in Modiin. In order for you to understand quite how unlucky this was, you’re going to need some background info. It’s a rocky ride, but there are some laughs along the way, so hold on tight.

It took me over two years to get my driver’s license in Israel. I could have bought myself a Ferrari with the amount of money I spent on driving lessons. Now before you draw hasty conclusions about my driving and coordination skills based on the length of time it took me to get my license, and the fact that I just revealed that I was in an accident, I can say emphatically that this one was beyond my control. In order to take the practical test, you need to take the theory test. After a couple of months of crawling around the Modiin streets in the evening with my Iraqi driving teacher, whose name – Sassi Sasson – continues to crack me up until this day, we decided that I was ready to take the theory test and then the practical test. At 100 NIS per lesson, Sassi had done well out of me, and he gave me his blessing to prepare for the test.

Not trusting my limited knowledge of mechanical terminology in Hebrew, I opted to take the test in English. Pretty logical decision, one might think, but that was my first mistake. Now, maybe because I am an editor, I have a heightened awareness of inconsistencies and the like, but it was quite clear from page one of the theory book in English (if you can call it that) that finding one coherent sentence that didn’t totally contradict the previous one was going to be a challenge of enormous proportions. Sentences like, “The transmission works in operation next to the gear box and the crank shaft all together up and down,” swam in front of my eyes, and I told myself that if I could pass the theory test in English, I could do anything. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I turned to Sassi for help, and told him that although I am no mechanical whizz, the book just made no sense. Even if Sassi explained to me the ins and outs of mechanics (why you need to know the complex mechanics of the car just to pass a driving test, I will never know), it wouldn’t help. The test in English would surely be based on the nonsensical drivel in the book – so the question was: Should I learn the correct information in the hope that the English test would be more coherent, or should I memorize the entire book, however dumb and illogical, in the presumption that they would test me based on the false information in it? 

Sassi could barely contain his excitement at hearing my dilemma. In Hebrew, he told me that I was absolutely right (thanks, Sassi, for telling me that NOW after I have already bought the book, and memorized each ridiculous sentence of its eighty pages) – the book was horrendous – filled with typos and inconsistencies – a landmine for any potential driver, and that he had a solution that would work to my advantage in more ways than one. As he delivered his master plan, I listened skeptically. Sassi suggested that I write a letter to the Ministry of Transport alerting them to the awful state of the English theory book. I should include in my letter some “best of the worst” sentences as examples of the mistakes. I should then take the opportunity to offer them my professional services as editor (gotta love the opportunistic edge of Israelis) to help them remedy the situation. How would this scheme benefit Sassi? Not quite sure. But he was mighty keen on the idea. He did say that he had other English-speaking students, and that it was in everybody’s interest that something be done about the English theory book. Well, as ideas go, it wasn’t the worst scheme in the world–but knowing the beauraucratical process in Israel as I do, I wasn’t hopeful that the Ministry of Transport would be knocking down MY door anytime soon, however convincing my letter, so I left it at that, and promised Sassi I would give it some thought. This won’t sound noble, but at the age of 26, as a mother and wife with a full-time job, I just wanted to DRIVE. Not launch a campaign against the Ministry of Transport, not write petitions, and rally for the cause. I just wanted to pass the damned theory test, so that I wouldn’t have to take another cab again to pick up my daughters from gan.

 I told myself that I had written dissertations, and am now an editor – a silly theory test would not get the better of me. So I psyched myself for the test, and joined some giddy sixteen-year-olds in Modiin to take the test. Unlike me, they were taking it in Hebrew, and their books actually contained sentences that might actually help a person in a tricky situation with a flat tire. I was the only one who took the test in English, and the multiple questions were designed to trick. If I wrote the correct answer, would they fail me anyway, because that was not what was written in the English theory book? Felt like a lose-lose situation to me. And it was. I failed. Not just once. But twice. “Hi, my name is Sorelle, and I can’t pass a theory test to save my life.” According to the results of my theory test, I got 49 questions wrong out of 50. 49 questions wrong out of 50 – I ask you!!!  Well, as you can imagine, my self-confidence was at an all-time low at that point. That was until I read the local Modiin newspaper a couple of months later – and said that they were no longer giving out tests in English in Modiin, because there were reports of corruption, and that the tests were marked manually – and not on the computer…. each time you take the test, you have to pay another 113 NIS, so it was in many people’s interest to keep on failing those unsuspecting Anglo students… At that point, I burned the theory book in English (no joke), and prepared myself to become incredibly familiar with mechanical lingo in Hebrew.

Well, three’s a charm, and I passed my third theory test in Jerusalem. (Lest you think things were finally going smoothly, unbeknownst to me, while I was taking my theory test, my husband who had dropped me off at the test center had gotten into a minor accident, and collided into another car…) Yay! Hebrew prevailed! Sassi was profiting very nicely from my predicament, since he said that it was important for me to keep taking lessons while I was studying for my multiple theory tests, so that I wouldn’t lose momentum, so we kept cruising round the Modiin streets, me, Sassi, and Ayal Golan, and all other sorts of delightful Mizrachi singers on the radio, as he regaled me with tales of Iraq, and his escape from there at the age of 14 when he left his family and moved to Israel alone. The editor in me was thinking at the time of offering to edit his autobiography – he told some pretty hair-raising stories – either he had a fascinating life, or he would make a great fiction writer.

The time came for me to take the practical test, and by that point, I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my second daughter. Getting behind the steering wheel was a challenge enough, never mind navigating one-way streets in Modiin at the mercy of insane Israeli drivers, and of course, as can be predicted, despite Sassi’s assurances that I would pass without a problem (after over 100 lessons, I would hope so!), the tester set me a trap, and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. He told me to do an emergency stop, so I did – but he failed me for parking on the wrong side of the road. Another 300 shekel down the drain, and some more “momentum” lessons with Sassi in between my next test. Well, I took my second test just two weeks before I gave birth to Tzofia, and as I was waiting to see which tester I would be subjected to this time, I was horrified to see that it was the same tester who had just failed me. I turned to Sassi in desperation and told him that after last time, there was NO way that I was going to pass! The tester hated me as it was! Sassi reassured me in the typical Israel fashion that does everything BUT reassure you – “Al tidag, hakol yihiyeh beseder, taamini li, motek” – “Don’t worry, love, everything’s going to be just fine.” Of course, what this translated as, “I have a deal with the tester, and you WILL pass this time.” I looked at Sassi menacingly, and told him that I had better pass, because at 38 weeks pregnant, I was fed up already, and that if I failed again, I would drive illegally, and wouldn’t take any more lessons with Sassi. I don’t know what it was that clinched it, but I did indeed pass the next time. The tester’s demeanor and attitude was totally different this time – he didn’t snap at me, and he was polite. I don’t know whether it was because he feared that upsetting me would cause my waters to break in his nicely scented shiny car, but this was a joy ride. He made me drive around the block a couple of times – NO reverse parking, NO highway, NO traps – and lo and behold, I passed! YAY!  I had made it to the finishing line, but the drama still wasn’t quite over…

<APOLOGIES FOR THE CLIFFHANGER> Stay tuned for part II of “Why did I ever think I could drive in this country?” 

A squash and a squeeze

A Squash and a Squeeze is a beautiful children’s story that is a real favorite with my girls, and unlike many of the other books I read to them, where I am wondering guiltily if they will really notice if I skip a page or five, this is a book I have no problem reading… again and again. The book comes with an audiotape, so I mimic the wise old man and little old lady’s accent with the best Welsh accent I can muster. 

The story centers on a little old lady who is dissatisfied with the size of her house, calling it a squash and a squeeze, (da-dum), but, with the advice of a wise old man (who looks like a venerable rabbi one might find in the kollels of Lakewood), who suggests that she bring in farmyard animals into her home, she soon discovers that it’s not as small as she thought.  Not understanding, at first, why bringing animals into her already-small home would help her predicament, she questions the wisdom of the wise old man’s advice, but nonetheless welcomes in animals, one by one, who wreak havoc on her home. The wise old man’s final piece of advice is to take out each animal, one by one, and by the time her home is an animal-free zone, nafal ha’asimon, the penny has dropped, and she realizes that her home, after all, is not quite the “squash and the squeeze” she originally felt it to be. 

To me, this sweet story captures the essence of life, and I have had many a “squash and a squeeze” moment. Living in an apartment in a neighborhood which predominantly boasts large and beautiful homes, I, too, have experienced on occasion a “squash and a squeeze” feeling, where I just feel that what I have just isn’t enough. And while I am not at the point of wanting to welcome in farmyard animals into our home in order to make me appreciate what I have – not being the greatest animal lover in the world – I do see that perspective is everything. It is OK and natural to want more – we are not nazirites that seek a lifestyle where abstinence is virtuous – but remember that you have a choice how to perceive your reality, and that everything is relative. You can want more, without sinking into depression about it – and the important thing is that in your desire to achieve more, earn more, possess more, don’t lose sight of all the good things you have in your life – whether it be your husband, your children, your friends…

For many years, I have fought (admittedly not very hard, given my shopaholic tendencies) against my materialistic inclinations. I felt that being materialistic ran counter to Jewish thought. Wanting a big house, lots of clothes, nice vacations just wasn’t holy, in my book. I didn’t know how to reconcile those two aspects of my being – the desire to “have more” and my desire to be a good Jew. 

I used to feel very guilty for comparing what I have to what others have – but then I realized that if I weren’t to do that, I probably wouldn’t be human. The desire for “more,” “bigger,” and “better” is what makes human beings grow, work harder, and thrive to improve, in the interest of bettering their lives. Yes, it is true, most people, upon leaving the Diaspora, and making Aliyah, breathe a sigh of relief at escaping the materialistic mindset, whereby the size of your house determines the size of your happiness – but not always.

In my mind, as long as your desire to be extremely wealthy includes a desire to give tzedakah (charity), and doesn’t turn you into a snob, then there is not necessarily a dichotomy. It’s just a hard balance to strike – but I guess that’s what Judaism is all about. The struggle to achieve balance.