Tuesday, August 30, 2005

To Shnorrer, Perchance to Scheme

Yiddish is a language that beautifully captures human nature in a way that English is too polite to do. Take the word “Shnorrer” for example. Tightarse and cheapskate don’t do it justice, as those both have pejorative connations. Shnorrer is a word that conjures up both disgust and admiration. I
t can be a noun – He’s such a Shnorrer he takes his own popcorn to the movies, then sells it back to his family for a profit.
It can be a verb – I managed to Shnorrer the best parking next to a broken meter. (Actually breaking the meter yourself would turn you from a Shnorrer into a Ganif).
It can be an adjective – look at the Shnorrer sandwich she made me, there’s barely any meat in it.
Jews admire a good Shnorrer and are often boasting to each other of their latest shnoradike escapades. Our friends know R and I as the Royal Couple of the Shnorrer holiday. We’re constantly targeted by timeshare schemes who invite us to a ninety minute presentation with the promise of a free holiday. We’ve managed to never buy timeshare, yet we enjoy the same benefits the honest hardworking folk who purchase it do. We’ve had 2 free holidays a year for the last five years courtesy of various vacation clubs. Tasteless? Yes. Classless? Perhaps. But the feeling of joy we get when we see the shmuck in the room next door paying his bill is priceless. I don’t care how crappy the room is or how disdainfully the hotel staff look at us when we show them our voucher, a holiday is much sweeter when you didn’t pay for it.

When The Entertainment Voucher book came out in Sydney a few years ago, Jews flocked to it like dieters to a black forest cake. We renamed it The Shnorrer Book and proudly carried it wherever we went. The joke that a non-Jew would be offended if you used a Shnorrer voucher on a date, while a Jew would be offended if you didn’t is only funny because it's true. Of course, there is a line that should never be crossed when shnorrering:
Never Shnorrer from a friend without them knowing.
Never Shnorrer at someone’s funeral.
Never Shnorrer your child out of a good education.
Never teach a Wasp to Shnorrer – it confuses them and upsets the delicate balance of the Universe.

Being such an expert in the ways of the Shnorrer, I feel silly that I didn’t realise a very obvious fact about my latest predicament. It’s like God’s looked down at our many years of shnorrering, both locally and internationally, together and apart. He smiled upon R and I and granted us the ultimate two for one deal.

One pregnancy, 2 babies.

A shnorrer mother's dream.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Reactions, Responses, Reservations for 5 at an Insane Asylum

Haven’t you heard of contraceptives? The first words out of R’s father’s mouth when we told him we’re expecting. He’s a Holocaust survivor. Not sure if this excuses the response, but I don't want to call him a fuckwit. R’s mother was slightly more subtle – that’s… Close. She said. Then she sunk back into her chair and started hyperventilating. When she recovered, she put her head in her hands and was catatonic. This was before we told them it’s twins.

Feeling like I now couldn’t actually say the word ‘twins’, I simply showed R’s father the ultrasound. His face crumpled up in confusion. He lifted his hands and made the sign of the devil. Actually he was just raising two fingers but it looked like something from a Black Sabbath concert to me. In the old days. When Ozzy used to invite Frank Zappa on stage to eat his shit. Two, he muttered to R’s mom. There are two of them.

That’s when I offered her a Valium.

She settled for a strong tea. I headed off to make it, peeking back to look at her and her husband. They were shaking their heads at each other. R paced the kitchen while I made the tea. I knew they were going to take it badly but it’s like we just told them Hitler’s alive again. I don’t want to go back into the room, I tell R. They’ll come round, he says. Then I see the look on his face. Let's run away to Vegas is what it says.

After 3 cups of tea and an assurance from us that we wouldn’t have any more kids after this, they calmed down to a mild panic. Afraid I was going to pour scolding water over both of them, while chanting an Icelandic curse, I excused myself and left Rob to comfort them further and see them out. We’re phoning my brother next, I told him. He’s a Rabbi. We’re making more Jews. He has to be happy.

Elated was what he was. He whistled, laughed and ululated. Pity he lives in Jerusalem because I wanted to set him onto Rob’s parents so he could suck the negativity out of them and force them into the Horah.

Fifteen more phonecalls to various family and friends. A lot of laughing. Not laughing with, you understand. A few tears. Much shocked silences followed by the words “I don’t know what to say” (I’ve always hated those words. They’re cowardly and lack imagination.) The words ‘financial plan’ were raised a few times. The odd optimistic cliché from a cheery girlfriend – the universe never gives you anything you can’t handle. How come people commit suicide then, I ask? They don’t realise that, responds the fairy worshipper. She’s quick, I’ll give her that.

By the end of it I feel like I’ve just admitted to my local mosque that I wrote the Satanic Verses. While felating a goat.

The next day, R’s mom has done a complete 360. She’s told some of her friends and they’ve pointed out that this will make her the one with the most grandchildren in their group. She’ll have more grandchildren than her mother had. This pleases her. She’s sweet as a jellybean, telling me she’ll help me organise a roster, so that everyone will help out. She works herself into a frenzy, describing the country girl we’ll get to work for us for cheap, the good deals we can get on twin strollers, the day care centre that O can go to. Then she forgets my name, twice.

His father bustles in and exclaims with delight. This is a big Fuck You to Hitler! It’s at that point that I offer myself a Valium, then settle for a quick dash out of the room, home to my bed, where there are no rosters, no friends and family and no one else's agendas to contend with.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Secret is Out

Never go to a Lucky Dube concert unless you expect serious repercussions. Remember that night of free love, peace and utopia three months ago? Well the lurve continued on into the bedroom at home. And the lounge actually. (The kitchen was out of bounds ‘cos it’s next to the baby’s bedroom). A week or two later I started feeling exhausted. Not tired like after a good walk or a big night out. Finished. Obliterated. Unable to function. You may remember me complaining about it. What I didn’t say was that I was also perpetually green, feeling like I was constantly reliving the last moments of The Titanic. I even had a warped Celine Dion track droning in my ears (that was one thing the real victims of The Titanic were at least spared). I did a home pregnancy test, already preparing myself for the double line, the phonecall to a shocked R.


I felt strangely sad. Like I’d failed an exam. Then the panic set in. Oh My God. It must be cancer. Or depression. Or a cancerous depression. I went to my doctor for a blood test. He phoned me the next day. We have your results. I steeled myself. Surely there must be an upside to cancer? You’re positive. He said. Positive? For what? HIV? Hepatitis? Ebola? Psychotic Hypochondria? You’re pregnant.

Two lessons there. One: Lucky Dube is a fertility god. Two: Never trust a home pregnancy test.

I started calculating my due date. Oh My. I’m due exactly a month after O turns one. Two children under 14 months. Surely that’s illegal? Aren’t I meant to be going back to work? Yes, there is a big part of me that wanted this, but I never imagined it would happen so soon. I’m the girl who was told by her doctor at fifteen that she would never be able to have a baby. Then again, the same doctor also wanted to break my hymen surgically as he feared “some guy would come at (me) like a ram and hurt (me)”. The man was clearly a perve.

So I call R. He’s in a meeting. He goes numb from shock. A few weeks before, we’d had his sperm tested. The doctors had told us there was a large amount of wonky sperm with two heads and no tails, or two tails and no head. Or something more clinical. They said he was obviously under a lot of stress and needed a holiday if he wanted to improve his sperm quality and count. Failing that, the next time we wanted to fall pregnant, we would need to have ‘sperm washing’ in which R jacked off into a jar and selected sperm were inserted into me via a pipette. The concept horrified me. I was never good at science. I cried for a day. R stared at the wall a lot. We decided it was better not to try for another baby for a while.

Seven weeks later. Our first scan. This scan dates the pregnancy, checks to see it’s not ectopic, and tells you if the baby has a strong heartbeat. I’m nervous. I lift up my shirt and say the strangest thing to the sonographer I’m not worried about multiples. She looks at me like I’m slightly deranged. She immediately finds the foetal sac. There’s your baby, she says. Then she hesitates and rolls the ultrasound over my belly again. Silent. I look at the screen. That looks like two sacs, I say, laughing. Mmmm, she answers. Why don’t you empty your bladder, come back and I’ll do an internal? I rush to the loo. It’s not just my bladders that get emptied. The expression “shitting yourself” exists for a reason. It could just be a left-over follicle, I think, not convinced. I walk back in to find R being offered a whisky by the sonographer. He’s breathing heavily. She inserts what my friend Ova Girl refers to as a “dildo cam’”. Yip, she says. Two sacs. Two placentas. Two heartbeats. R is an intelligent man. He works in brain science for God’s sake. But I swear I hear him ask, What does that mean? TWINS, I scream, surprising myself. Two babies means TWINS! Dildo cam almost lurches out from inside my hoo-hah as if it too is in denial.

The sonographer checks that everything is ok with B1 and B2, then tells me to get the number for the Multiple Birth association. She reminds me that my next appointment will take double the amount of time and cost double, gives R the rest of the bottle of Scotch to take home (mainly because he's clinging to it like a catholic priest to a copy of Barely Legal) and sends us on our way. He’s a dark skinned man, R, but he’s turned whiter than pure cocaine. I take my Brave Face out of my handbag and slap it on. Three children under 14 months, I think. Piece of Cake.

Then I feel a giggle welling up deep inside me and I laugh and laugh until my chuckles turn to tears.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Secret Keeper

I am a Keeper of Secrets. People always tell me their most hidden innermost hush-hush stuff. My theory is it’s because I’m fat. Fat people are like Switzerland. Innocuous. Neutral. Unlikely to cause a stir. Since I was a small child, I have kept other people’s secrets in sparkly coloured jars in my room. The jewel encrusted green jar was home to the story of Tina pulling the arms off her favourite doll, then blaming her sister. Later, it kept the secret of Jo’s mother’s latest trip to the hospital, which had nothing to do with her breaking her arm and everything to do with the litre of scotch she drank before fetching the kids from school. The ruby red jar held lust secrets. How Lance lusted after Roger, his sister’s boyfriend, how Elise was secretly seeing Tracey’s ex without her knowledge, how Jarred was selling dope to make enough money to pay for the earrings he promised Lisa. The flaming yellow jar was for secrets of cowardice – how Elaine faked an epileptic fit to get out of running the school marathon, how Rodney left his best friend bleeding in his garden after hitting him in the head with a rock, how Rowan blamed Kevin for the home bomb they made even though it was his idea in the first place.

I kept all these secrets tight, tending to them regularly, making sure the jars that held them were secure.

But the funny thing about secrets is that, before long, someone (usually the person who gave me the secret for safe keeping) would sneak into my room late at night and open the jars, letting the secrets out. There was the inevitable aftermath. Accusations, tears, break-ups. And from me, relief. The secret was no longer mine to keep. Even then, I feigned ignorance. Third parties would tell me the stories in all their sordid details and I would act out my surprise and shock. I would never have guessed, I’d tell them. I always suspected, they’d tell me, unconvincingly.

But the problem with being a Keeper of Secrets is that you get used to putting things in sparkly jars. You get used to closing those jars very tight and never opening them. You get used to pretending not to know what you know. And for every jar of Other People’s Secrets I owned, I had ten of my own. Mine never got opened for air. Mine were never broken into in the night. Mine remained so tightly sealed that if I were to open them now, the pressure would make them explode in my face. Also, I know for a fact that worms hatched in the jars and grew fat living off the juice of my secrets. Everyone knows what you should never do with a can of worms, let alone a whole jar...

The secret I am now holding must come out. But I am scared. Of what people will say and how it will hurt me and them. Of how to tell it. And mostly, of the secret itself. It’s a big, life changing one. It’s very beautiful, but also very frightening. And while I have it in my jar it’s still pure and clean and mine. Who knows what sort of horrors it will be exposed to when it’s let out? My cocoon of denial is warm and snug and, although it’s getting pretty tight in here, it’s a place I know and trust.

I glance at this secret in its bright pink jar. I feel the lid to see if it’s ready to be loosened…

Friday, August 19, 2005

Trying to Keep It Real

A nasty little script editor I once worked with said that I use humour as a defence, as a way of not having to face the truth. Fuck it, I thought, better that than Crack Cocaine. But I have to admit, that last post I wrote was tremendously glib and evasive. Then again, if I told you I was terrified about O's next operation, I'd be lying. I'm numb, actually. It doesn't feel real. Maybe because my denial mechanism is tremendously well honed (you don’t get to be my weight without a brilliant ability to self-deceive), or maybe because O is not in any pain and it doesn’t seem to affect her in any way. True we have her on a cocktail of laxatives. True if we stopped them she’d be chronically constipated. But we’ve got into a comfortable routine which means we’re side stepping her physiological problem quite nicely thank you. So to be told she has to have the tiny muscles in her gut moved to a different position that may not even remedy the problem seems absurd.

Like any big decision, family politics are now starting to play a part. R’s father, a retired doctor, seems to think I haven’t been firm enough with the surgeon. As if I could bully him into rescinding his desire to operate again. A few firm words and I’m sure he’ll admit O is actually fine. My own father, a practicing gastroenterologist, has been amazing in mobilising for the Second Opinion. Only problem is, he’s found an alternative surgeon who practices at a hospital over an hour away. While this sounds unimportant, it means we would be very isolated during the operation. We would probably have to stay in a hospital dormitory and it would be difficult for people to visit O. I really relied on visitors last time to break the tedium of those endless neon-lit hospital days in which the outside world ceases to exist. Also, the current surgeon, Dr Saturday Night Fever, may be smug and evasive, but at least he knows O and her condition… Plus he can bust a mean move on the dance floor. Sorry, there I go again…

And there’s something else. Something secret that I’m not ready to write about yet. Something that impacts directly on all our decisions that I’m still back and forthing about. I feel like I’m in a mistaken identity film. I’m actually 17 and I got transported into a dystopic version of what my life could be if I don’t immediately mend my ways. Am realising, perhaps a bit slowly, that being a grown up isn’t all about getting to choose your own bed time and drink tequila…

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Witch Doctor?

Dr Saturday Night Fever, O's surgeon, takes me into his office last week. He had a slightly paternalistic look on his face, which annoys me because he's younger than me. Or looks younger, which is even worse. He flings his jacket on the chair in the disco manner that earned him his name, and assumes a grave voice. O has to have another operation, he tells me. And this one is a biggie.

He procedes to explain that they want to reposition a lot of her muscles. The operation is finicky and long, and she'll need to be in hospital for ten days. Plus it only has a fifty percent chance of succeeding. Then he starts drawing diagrams which remind me of my high school biology teacher, a woman with a nervous tic and halitosis. I realise I am trying to distract myself from the blow he's just delivered. I leave his office feeling like swinging his jacket around his neck and tightening it. Ever so slowly. Little O smiles at him and I can't help but suspect her judgement.

So now, we're getting A Second Opinion. It's quite political, this second opinion caper. Doctor SN Fever is getting a bit defensive about it. I'm always intrigued by people's egos. I suppose a lot of doctors are used to being revered, so they're put out if you question them. Probably why I fantastise about becoming doctor. That, and those bossy secretaries you're assigned who look like they've been sucking a lemon for fourty years straight.

To try earn some dosh, which we'll need for all of O's medical expenses, I've been doing an incy bit of copy writing. Am not yet ready to get back into anything full time so this suits for now, but I'm finding that I can't do any work with O around. Hence, looking for a nanny. Which is its own little half hour mini-drama. Have asked R to consider people-smuggling as a side business. That way, I can exploit refugees and create underground nanny-house in manner of whorehouse but with time out for tea and a community atmosphere (sing-alongs, bingo nights, pin the tail on the immigration minister).

I've also got to get another draft of the ball and chain screenplay done. Have reworked the first act and am awaiting feedback from Script Editor. Grrrroan. Wish I could just set aside a month and work only on that, but now's not the time. These little buggers may be demanding, but the thought of putting O in full time day care now is totally unappealing. Apart from the fact that she couldn't tell me if she was having a crap time, I'd miss her too much. She's such fun to be around.

Do you think the doctor could operate on me instead of her? They must have invented some osmotic surgical process by now. I'm pretty sure I saw it on "Beyond 2000" in the eighties...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Does anyone here remember laughter?

Having a child of my own has flooded my brain with hundreds of incongruous recollections from my own childhood and how different O's is likely to be. Here's one:

My best friend Nina had a huge, sprawling house that used to be the Lebanese Embassy. There were hundreds of rooms and even a secret, concealed bathroom that we loved hiding in. From age ten to thirteen, I practically lived there. I even used to sleep at her on school nights, something I now find slightly dodgy - why were my parents letting me sleep out on a school night? Was I that responsible a child that they weren't concerned I'd stay up all night and not be able to focus at school? Sadly, yes. But I digress. The memory that flooded me this morning as I awoke to a freezing Sydney winter with a dog on my face and a baby crying, was how Nina's nanny, Maggie, used to wake us on chilly South African mornings. She would come into the room singing our names in a low, deep, melodic voice that always seemed on the verge of a chuckle. Or tears. I forget which. Then she'd place two piping hot mugs of Milo down next to us. While we drank the Milo she'd bring us our school uniforms, which she'd already warmed on the heater. Yes, Maggie's own children were probably freezing their hungry arses off in a makeshift hut in a township while people outside were being brutally killed by the police, but, hell, that Milo tasted good.

Apartheid was tricky like that.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Some of the Reasons why I love my Daughter...

I realise this blog is turning into a whingefest about my dastardly domestic life. In truth, little O brings me so much daily joy that there’s nowhere I’d rather be right now than at home with her. And a nanny. And housekeeper. And Chef.
Sorry, I can’t help myself. Bloody spoilt South Africans…
Here is a tiny representation of the many ways in which she lightens my life:

1. She has the most infectious, pure, joyous giggle that disarms and delights me every time I hear it.
2. She is curious and friendly, smiling at anyone who says hello. Later I will teach her that paedophiles are people she shouldn’t smile at, but right now it’s very endearing.
3. She’s clever. And responsive. And babbles endlessly when R and I are talking, contributing wisely to the conversation.
4. She does most of her pooing in the early morning, during R’s shift. This is highly considerate.
5. She is unbelievably patient, and allows me to take her wherever I go without complaining. She even comes with us to restaurants at night and sits happily in her pram, not whinging.
6. She loves the dog. When the mangy hound, Pepper, sniffs at her, she grabs Pepper’s ears and giggles.
7. She has a cheeky glint in her eye that is mostly present when she’s doing something she knows she shouldn’t be. Like eating my childhood copy of War and Peace. (Yes, I had a childhood copy. Along with Steppenwolf and God and Death. Bizarelly, some people thought I was an intense child).
8. Sometimes I don’t change her nappy for a few hours and she hasn’t reported me to the authorities even once.
9. She sleeps through the night. Everyone praises me for it. I secretly know that this has nothing to do with my mothering techniques or settling methods. It’s just luck.
10. She eats everything we offer her. Later, I will tell her about campaigns to poison Mars Bars, but right now it’s fabulous to have a non-fussy eater.
11. I have more unabated fun with her than I’ve ever had. Even including my chemical drugs days and the time I met Jonny Depp. She reminds me what it’s like to be a child, to live in this instant, to trust unreservedly, to fart in public with no shame… and to love with my heart wide open.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

In which Yidchick leaks cerebral fluid on her pants...

This is what happens when you educate a woman, tell her she can be anything she wants to, then confine her to a house and make her wash dishes... She starts to set herself inane tasks to keep her sanity in check. Today I peeled an orange, put the peels on the roof of my car and set out to chart how far I could drive before all the peels fell off. The result was a lesson for me in never doubting the potential or tenacity of a truly motivated being. The orange peel travelled all the way from my mother-in-law's house to the shopping mall. It made a detour with me to the petrol station, sneaked into the No Stopping zone in the park and accompanied me home. (Aside: a small insight into the banality of my day). Granted, parts of it were lost along the way, but one die hard take no prisoners monster of a piece stayed with me the entire day. I'm looking out the window now, smiling proudly at the persistant motherfucker, her pockmarked orange skin languidly resting on the boot, as if to say How could you doubt me?

I like food that sticks around. Nuts are good like that too. You can eat a couple after lunch and still have pieces at the back of your teeth for tea. But that orange peel, she's special. If I can hang in like her, I might survive this year of not earning money as my arse gets bigger, my language skills regress to such an extent that I think "poopy" is a legitimate word and my idea of a good sleep is three hours in a row.

Let's hope.