With great disappointment, it was concluded that the annual sojourn to see my daughters in Johannesburg was not financially possible this year. With respect to all aspects of successfully working toward erasing our debts, the hardest part of the process was learning to say “no.” Still, I’m a trooper and rarely wallow in self-pity. Unless however, the belt-tightening exercise results in missing out on seeing my overseas children and grandchildren. I then pull out all of the “poor-me” stops and make my husband’s life a living hell. (I have a BFA in Dramatic Arts that I rarely use but when “sorrow” is called for, I’m on it.) I tried to justify my sadness with an honest concern over the recent deliberate crashing of a German airline. For a few weeks it succeeded in having a calming effect on my wanderlust.
Thus, one can imagine my amazement when daughter number three said, “I need some mommy-time. This isn’t a discussion. The ticket’s bought; see you next week.” And before I could say “I left my heart in Addis Ababa,” the plane took off and I found myself soaring the skies of Africa toward Johannesburg.
Is it possible to be at the top of the world when you’re, in fact, near the bottom? Indeed, yes, when a bunch of be-speckled grandchildren come running at you as you exit Baggage Claim at Oliver Thambo International Airport. Infants wrapped in Baby Bjorns, toddlers who don’t really remember who I am and the older kids in their school uniforms all disobeying the rule of standing behind the gate and, instead, smothering me with hugs, kisses, leaping upon the luggage carrier and hanging off of my waist, shoulders and neck. A taste of Heaven at the terminal. Traveling alone this time without my husband, my only jam-packed obligations included cooking family favorites, rocking babies to sleep, sitting in the car (frequently) while mommies ran errands, bedtime stories, diaper changing, reminiscing, peeling, folding, group swims, pushing swings and making room in a too-big-bed for talcum-sweetened post-bath tadpoles who wanted more and a little more than that grandma time.
Some days I bemoan being too busy, but on others I am grateful because I am not consumed by thoughts of the evaporation of extended families, divorce, stay-at-home-mothering versus career pursuit, struggling to make ends meet on one, two or three incomes and, just to mix it up, the meaning of life. Being Israeli adds indescribable layers to the aforementioned concerns because threats of local and global terrorism are ever present as we negotiate our daily schedule.
Every song ever sung about the skies of Africa is true. To be blessed with a gift this satisfying cannot be demanded. It is a reward—deserved or not—from God. It comes from an understanding that the big-picture is not the only picture and that on most days, there is nothing more important that having a cup of coffee with a daughter and teaching a toddler his ABC’s.
Even if you have to go to the bottom of the world to get it done.
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.