“No, two nights.”
“Why two nights?”
“Because Sukkot is such a nice time of year and it will be wonderful to get away.”
“Are you sure we should spend that much?”
“Oh, absolutely. We’ll find a nice, simple ‘tzimmer’. It will be great to be in a different environment. Tons of local activities for the kids. We’ll go crazy sitting around here.”
That was the conversation I had with my husband a few weeks ago during that brief moment in time when summer vacation is over and the next school break seems ages away. The period during which you are lured into a false sense of schedule, fully recovered from a nightmarish August but not quite ready yet to kill yourself with a sandwich knife.
Who’s afraid of a little chofesh? A slice of honey cake, a few blasts on the shofar, a dinner here, a lunch there, sukka decorating…badda bing badda bang, the Jewish holiday season will be over before you can even say “How many days till Chanukah?” The future seemed bright, my spirits were high, and the weather had gone from seriously shvitzing to comfortably cool. It was a good time to plan a nice family getaway.
My sights were set on the Negev. Oh beautiful, serene, exotic Negev. The only place I find truly calming. Wide open spaces, a slower pace of living, and so authentic. A real contrast to our cramped, noisy, smelly city life. Every time we drive down there I become obsessed with relocating. A nice small village. Building our own sustainable mud house. Making Israeli friends. Maybe open a bed and breakfast. The Negev: a place Zionist dreams are made of. I couldn’t wait. And I found just the right spot, not too far as to have to sit in the car for hours wasting precious vacation time, but not too close as to risk even the slightest topographical similarity. I scoured the internet and made a Google document of activities and Groupon codes. Camel riding, desert hikes, alpacas…one night was surely not enough time to take it all in! Two nights, three days, that’s more like it.
The second we were in the car I knew it was a mistake. We hadn’t even left the parking lot when seating arrangements were already being called into question. As we hit the highway someone wants to know how much longer. And at least two of out the five passengers are hungry. Traveling with kids is like getting wasted. When you’re head is over the toilet and the room is spinning you swear never to do it again. But a few weeks go by and you’re at the bar telling everyone how good your tolerance is while downing your second Long Island Iced Tea and ordering a round of Jager Bombs for you and your besties.
The four-year-old won’t accept that we are not going to the airport despite the pictures of airplanes on every sign we pass. The middle child keeps asking where we are going even though we’ve explained it a hundred times. And the eldest, not yet ten, is gazing out the window looking like he’s trying to figure out an escape route. I focus on the big fat gas station coffee I’m gonna get soon and flip through radio stations trying to find some non-Arabic music.
When we finally arrive at our little home away from home, I am immediately aggravated by how nice it is. It’s simply, yet tastefully decorated, but all I can see is a vision of my hodge podge, Ikea meets flea-market meets we-have-we-been-robbed styled apartment back in the city. There is a little fish pond, which the kids are now standing in, half naked, and I don’t care because the bathing suits are packed in one of eight bags we brought, and I’m on vacation. My husband, who graciously assumes the role of driver, navigator, bellboy and chef whenever we go away, is almost finished bringing in the stuff, so I look to begin the process of relaxing. I refuse to sit in a chair, because I could do that at home. And not next to that group from Sweden because their language bothers me. My relaxing spot needs to be well situated, preferably with some type of swinging motion, and colors that will stand out on Instagram. Also, I need wine.
We make our own dinner, which is annoying because we’re on vacation and that means that shutting off lights, closing doors or even flushing the toilet is too much effort. We’ve not unpacked as such, clothing is buffet style, off the floor, next to the cat which has crept in through the open door and found a cozy spot on someone’s pajamas. As soon as it’s dark we tell the kids that it is very late, rush them to sleep in their strange new beds, and retire to the garden nearby, for some more relaxing. This involves wine again, and Swiss chocolate that we share with the Swedes. But it’s only eight pm, and that gas station coffee is still flowing through my veins. I hold back from offering to help the owners set up for breakfast and instead go around picking up socks my kids have flung around the premises. Downloading an episode of ‘Modern Family’ seems wrong, so I opt for a rustic looking book on philosophy I found on a quaint bookshelf, and I am now asleep on a bed that looks comfortable, but is not.
6am. I am awake. I jump out of bed and sneak out quietly so I can catch the sunrise over the desert. And also so that my husband will deal with the kids when they wake up starving. I wrap up in something warm, desert colored and hippie-looking, and rush to find The Perfect Spot. The problem is that the entire cliff is covered with Ibex. Ibexes? Ibi? Ibexim? Anyway, they are everywhere, and I don’t know where to go. Suddenly it seems that I am to them what the sunrise is to me, as they are now transfixed on me and headed in my direction. I creep backwards towards the direction of the houses, using language that would immediately identify me as a New Yorker despite my disguise. Thankfully they are distracted by garbage, and I literally run for the hills before I miss the perfect sunrise shot for Facebook.
No one wants to go on a hike or fight the crowds at the local attractions, so we spend the next day relaxing, which seems to really just mean eating. Breakfast turns into lunch, and the kids have not yet tired of jumping in and out of the fish pond. When the wine makes me sleepy I replace it with coffee and when that makes me jittery I revert back to wine again. We chat with the Swedes, and pass the time pacing between the hammock and the rocking chair. I take mental notes of how I am going to recreate this bohemian chic look in my own home, and promise to meditate in the desert, or at least finish the book I’m reading about it. But the calm we are all faking starts to crack open and bares our true, nervous selves. One kid keeps falling off of the hammock yet insists on going back for more, and the other two have somehow ended up watching a movie at a neighbor’s house. The husband is showing off his German to the Swedes, and I am manic. We manage to whip up another makeshift dinner and head off into the dark desert to star gaze. I am cold and afraid of wild Ibexim. I lock myself in the ‘master suite’, rolled up by the window like a junkie, using all the bandwith I can get a hold of to watch Sarah Silverman stand up, wondering why I agreed to two nights when one was clearly enough.
It is our third day in the desert. I hate the desert. It is boring. It makes my skin dry. And there is sand everywhere. I don’t want to see the sunrise. I don’t want a Middle Eastern style breakfast with locally squeezed goats. I want 5 shekel coffee from Coffix, and a roll from the freezer. And I don’t like the way the Ibexim stare at me. Before we are crushed under the pressure to relax more, we pack like a tornado is heading directly towards the tzimmer, bid au revoir to the Swedes, and squeeze into the car so desperate for some action that no one cares where they are sitting. For the sake of the children, we pay stupid money to enter a historical site that apparently is a very big deal. But once you’ve seen one ancient ruin you’ve seen them all, and not even the Japanese tourists are taking pictures. By this point in the school vacation no one gives a damn who once lived there or why they needed so many baths. We tell the kids to read the pamphlet and plop down on what’s left of a Roman pillar to ask Waze where the nearest gas station with coffee is.
Back in the car, homeward bound, I assume my position as Miss Daisy and finally feel relaxed. I fantasize about dropping the kids off Sunday morning and my husband calling me to say hi from work. We play the car game we made up called ‘What I Left At The Tzimmer’. We realize there won’t be enough time to buy milk at the store before it closes for Shabbat. There will be a ton of laundry to do even though we all just wore the same thing for 3 days, as it all sat on the floor under the cats and sand. As I post sunrise pictures to Facebook, I see that teachers are already emailing schedules that are ‘subject to change’. My seatbelt fits awkwardly over my newly aquired fat, a direct result of pita from the Negev, wine from the Galil, and chocolate from the Alps. The skies are cloudy which reminds me I have to call the guy about the damp spot in the wall when we get home. As we pass dozens of dilapidated Bedouin shacks outfitted with the latest in solar technology, I despair over the state of the environment and inequality. As sand turns to concrete, and the radio beams the greatest hits from the 80’s, 90’s and today, that familiar tightness in my heart creeps back. Some may call it anxiety but I call it home.