Whose Child Is That?

Since I’ve been in charge, there are new rules in the house: You’re allowed to eat pizza three days in a row. Hot dogs can be all right even after a week. If the shampoo runs out, you can wash your hair with conditioner.

You don’t know how hard it is to be a working mother. I feel suffocated, torn between family and work. Between the children and a raise, between home and success. It’s exhausting, it’s inhuman and I find myself collapsing before 8 P.M., right after supper, showers and tooth-brushing. It’s lucky that my wife is not allowed, on doctors’ orders, to come near me. The statement “I have a headache” has never been so close to my heart.

Unfortunately this week we managed to be hospitalized twice, and the second time it was made clear to us that she had to remain under supervision in the hospital. It’s too early for the birth, and the main task now is to hold on for as long as possible; every additional day is a blessing.

Sayed Kashua teaching his son
Illustrations by Amos Biderman

Meanwhile I wake up at six, take bread out of the freezer, make coffee, smoke my morning cigarette − which has turned into two morning puffs − in my study. In the paper I read only the weather forecast so I’ll know how to dress the children for school; then I get into the shower. At 6:30 I wake the children. The older one gets up and the little one stays in bed. I wash fruits and vegetables, put them into green plastic bags, and at 6:35 go back to the children’s room and kick my little son. Then I make sandwiches and fill up their water bottles. It turns out that they both prefer a spread of olive oil mixed with ground za’atar for breakfast in school. I tried to fight it at first. I claimed that it drips, it’s not civilized and mainly it’s embarrassing; I pushed cheese and pastrami on them. But when they returned with the civilized sandwiches untouched, I understood that I had no choice, so I spread pitas with olive oil and let’s get going − I don’t have time to educate them now.

At 6:40 I drag my little son into the bathroom. He brushes his teeth for half an hour and that kills me. Yesterday I tried to convince him to give it up. “Did you hear?” I asked him, “a new study proves that you don’t have to brush your teeth in the morning.” He said that it’s not true, that the doctor, the kindergarten teacher and Mom all claim that you have to. I threatened him with a yellow cheese sandwich instead of the za’atar, and he was willing to compromise on a short brushing.

Sometimes my daughter claims she has nothing to wear, that all the clothes she likes are in the laundry and what’s in the closet is too small. So sometimes in response I dump everything out of the laundry basket, take the clothes she likes and prove to her that they are quite clean.

“Not true,” she claimed at first, “the teacher and Mom and the doctors all say that you have to change clothes after perspiring.” I told her that that used to be true, before they invented deodorant, and it’s a shame they don’t update the textbooks from time to time. But she wasn’t convinced, so I paid her 20 shekels to keep quiet and promised that we would go to buy her clothes when I had time. “You never have time,” she said, crying, so I gave her another 20 shekels and she stopped complaining.

Since I’ve been in charge there are new rules in the house: You’re allowed to eat pizza three days in a row. Hot dogs can be all right even an entire week from the moment they were cooked. The new pajamas are called underpants. If the shampoo runs out you can wash your hair with conditioner, Dad is allowed to do all the homework without the child being present.

It’s permitted to fail religious studies. My daughter is allowed to sign tests herself; I taught her how to forge my signature, and when she’s late, she can write a note to the teacher in my name − she already knows how to sign.

A little after eight the children are at school. From there I drive straight to Hadassah hospital. I get stuck in a traffic jam at the entrance, spend a long time looking for a parking space and then get on the minibus that serves the hospital campus. I pass the first security checkpoint, go up to the second floor of the shopping mall through which every visitor to Hadassah has to pass, go through the second security checkpoint, rush to the Mother and Child Pavilion and go up to the high-risk pregnancy department.

At first my wife said she was incapable of eating the hospital food, so I prepared pita with olive oil and za’atar for her at home. I go over the monitor printouts and have a panic attack, although I don’t understand a thing about them. I always wait for the doctors’ rounds, mainly because I like to joke around with the doctors.

She’s bored there. All day long she cuts fruit in some game she downloaded on her iPhone.

She is breaking all the records. Yesterday she managed to cut 1,164 fruits without touching even one bomb. Afterward she’ll ask how the children are and I’ll tell her the truth, that everything is all right. I’ll promise that in the afternoon I’ll manage to do the laundry, shopping, food preparation, dishes and homework, and then I’ll bring them for a short visit.

“Is our son making pee pee?” she asked yesterday, surprising me.

“Of course,” I replied, although I wasn’t sure. “What do you mean? Why shouldn’t he make pee pee?”

“Haven’t you noticed that he holds it in, you simply have to force him, otherwise he doesn’t make.”

“What?” I asked, recalling that I had not really kept track of his pee pee. “Where does that come from? Why should he hold it in?”

“I don’t know,” she said, with her eyes on the iPhone screen, cutting fruit like a food processor. “In psychology they say that children who hold it in turn out to be misers later on.”

“A miser?” I shouted. “What are you talking about? Why the hell should I end up with a child who’s a miser with pee pee?”

“It’s not so terrible,” she said, “it happens. All you have to do is take him in and make sure that he pees, that’s all.”

“All right,” I replied, “and I still think that he has no problem with pee pee, if anything it’s the teeth-brushing that’s killing me.”
“Wow,” she said, “I would really love to have a latte.”
“Are you crazy?” I shouted at her just as I got up to try to go and work a little before I have to drive to school to pick up the children. “Do you know how much coffee costs here?”

“But I can’t stand the coffee they have in the ward.”

“All right,” I told her, “this afternoon I’ll bring you some from home in a green plastic bag.”

“All right,” she compromised. “Go to work already, they’re probably angry at you there.”

“Don’t worry about my work,” I say, giving her a kiss. “The main thing is for you to be well.”

On the way to the car I always feel pressure in my bladder, and in the end decide I have no time, because there’s always a line at the visitors’ bathroom in Hadassah, and I’ve learned that I almost always manage to hold it in until I get to the office.