Alone Again (Not) Naturally

by Brian on August 7, 2008

in A Parent in Israel

The week didn’t go at all as I expected. When Jody made plans for her and Amir to go to Cleveland for Jody’s grandmother’s 90th birthday at the same time as Merav and Aviv were to be in sleep away camp, I thought: this is great. I get the house all to myself. Peace and quiet to work without interruption.

Plus I can do whatever I want, whenever I want with no responsibilities. I can make a mess and no one will nag me to clean it up. With no kids around to throw dirty clothes on the floor, their rooms will remain spotless. I can take long showers (without worrying that the hot water will run out), leave all the lights on and eat junk food every night.

Sure I would miss my wife and family. But as friends expressed their jealousy – and even envy – at this opportunity I had to watch as much TV as I wanted (in between work of course), I began to relish the thought. On Saturday night I drove Jody and Amir to the airport and then came home to begin my two weeks of serious fun.

Instead, I found myself strangely floundering. I kept to a routine. I got up every morning and went for a run. I ate breakfast, took a shower, then sat down at my computer as usual. But I couldn’t get going. All that time to be productive and I found myself perusing the Internet for way too much time.

I had hoped to finally check a few items off my to do list, but the list just grew. I had a bunch of movies to watch from our DVR. Didn’t get to them. A pile of newspapers and magazines to read through. They’re still stacked in the corner of my room. I wanted to update my podcast but the task seemed too daunting.

Instead I found myself obsessed with Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, an Internet musical written and produced by Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. The story of a singing mad scientist, Dr. Horrible is a kind of Rocky Horror Show for Generation X. The tunes are pretty good too. I’ve watched it about 10 times already.

I had my own horrible plan: to eat my way across Jerusalem. I made a list of all the fast food places in the neighborhood: Burger’s Bar, Falafel Oved, Shnizi, New Deli, Tal Bagels, Sushi Bar Rehavia, Soya, the shwarma place on Yohanan Ben Zachai Street.  Every night a different treat served in under 3 minutes. Salad? That was for wimps.

But then I couldn’t do it. All that grease and frying made my stomach queasy. Friends asked me to come over to dinner and I gladly accepted. I brought them grapes and cake.

Why was I so scattered, I wondered. The silence, no distractions – shouldn’t I be having the time of my life? But it’s exactly because there were no interruptions that I think I was so unproductive. In some bizarre, counter-intuitive way, I seem to need to be pulled in different directions in order to work – and play – efficiently.

I need my kids to barge into my office with stories of their days. I need to exchange emails and instant messages with Jody about bills and plans. Having to stop when someone else decides dinner is ready (rather than me ordering in when I feel like it) somehow frames my day so I can do what I need to.

It’s like what the parenting books say about children: they need boundaries, structure to thrive. That’s me too.

Most of all, I need my loving wife who pushes me to be my best. 30 years ago, when I was a teenager, I was kind of geeky. OK, very geeky. I thought that I would be alone all my life. I couldn’t imagine anyone loving me, let alone getting married and raising a family. Rather, I imagined spending all my time working. Excelling in my profession. Eating at fancy restaurants in exotic countries – but always alone.

Now I know that’s not true. Without Jody and my kids surrounding me with boundless love, I would never have achieved anything. I would have floundered like I did this week.

My experience has also taught me a lesson about Judaism. Jewish law propounds the value of boundaries. Not being able to eat everything we want or having restrictions on what we do on Shabbat and holidays is said to actually give us more freedom, not less. I believe it.

Jody and the kids come back in a few days. The homecoming will be filled with kisses and tales of everyone’s exciting days in the U.S. and at camp. I can’t wait.

And maybe with all the hubbub and commotion, I can finally get some work done!

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