Here is a thought that I can barely comprehend: Exactly one year ago, I was running for Knesset.
I had formed a new Women’s Party with a bunch of energetic women, and we were on the campaign trail. It’s hard to picture, or even remember. I mean, it seems so far away that the coalition has already since collapsed AGAIN but nobody seems to realize or care.
One year ago, not only was I running for Knesset and working 12-hour days, but I was also home alone in my house. That is also something that has become foreign after a year of hunkering down. A year ago, three of my kids were students living in different cities, another was on her post-army world trek, and my husband was in India for weeks or months at a time running his NGO, and I was an empty-nester. The big joke among the women of our party was that I invariably cut short our late-night meetings because I had to get home to walk the dog. I would kvetch to my kids and my husband about how they went along with their lives and left me to take care of Teddy and the house on my own, as if, you know, the mother is the only family member who doesn’t really have a life. I’m running for Knesset, I tried to tell them. This may be the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life. They shrugged.
Or maybe God shrugged. Or maybe God laughed. In a real, Haha just wait! kind of laugh. A very particular, Haha 2020 is coming! kind of laugh.
It really does feel like a lifetime ago. I can barely imagine being out of the house, working, moving around in crowds of people. I don’t think I’ve been home alone since March. I mean, I know for a lot of people, the hunkering down has brought a very painful alone-ness. But for some of us, it has been the opposite, a constant crowd in my nose. That’s Corona for you. No gentle middle ground. Only extremes.
It’s only been a year but time has sort of lost its meaning. What is now? What is later? When will this end? If at all? What’s going to be next year? Next week? Some days I can’t even remember what month we’re in.
My quarantines have been particularly frenetic, mostly in a good way. Right before corona
hit, two of my kids got engaged to their significant others, leaving us to plan and execute two corona garden weddings. The truth is, they were amazing, and I am extremely blessed. But the experiences were not without a fair share of stress. How to do it, what is allowed, how many people, inside or outside, how many can we fit while distancing, who is least likely to be offended for not being invited, how does one dress to a garden wedding, what color should the masks be, what if it rains, what is the best brand of alco-gel… I know these are small issues compared to the stress of actually getting Corona. I am definitely aware of my privilege. Still, I give the young couples lots of credit for getting through these strange times when they are trying to build a life. It’s stepping out into a lot of uncertainty and insecurity. But at least they will have stories to tell their grandchildren, amiright?
Our quarantines have been somewhat overcrowded as well, in a blessed way, of course. As
quarantine hit, all the chicks came home to roost, so to speak. We were also joined by partners, by my niece stranded in her gap-year program and by a lone soldier. At one point, my youngest daughter’s boyfriend was here for a brief visit when he learned that his sister had come home from the army with Corona and his whole house was going into quarantine. He stayed with us for two weeks. This last lockdown, we had a new challenge when my niece, finally ready and able to go back home to Australia and on her final stretch with us, faced the surprise government decision to close the airport. Hah! She is still with us, though her parents found a secret – and expensive – way to get her home next week. Fingers crossed.
At the start of the first lockdown, we bought a new the kitchen cabinet that affectionately known as the End-of-the-World cabinet. We filled it like we were going into a bunker – canned beans , pasta, long-life milk, essential chocolate that I thought was enough to last a month but it lasted about a day. (We have gone through a LOT of chocolate in quarantine. Have I mentioned Ben and Jerry's?)
The End-of-the-World cabinet sits only a few meters away from the generator we bought when I frantically convinced my husband that violent right wing conspiracy theorists funded by Putin were trying to create a massive cyber-attack to disrupt electricity for all of America and the Middle East. I know, I sound like a conspiracy theorist myself. Maybe it’s infectious. (Don’t say infectious!). Quarantine does crazy things to people.
These extremes have been, well, unnerving. And fun, for sure. I mean, when we were at the height of nine people in our bubble, we had lots of laughs. We did art and music projects, we watched Neflix movies together, and we even participated in the museum recreation projects. (Yes, 2020 was the gap year in which my niece also got to be Jesus in the Last Supper. Talk about a unique Israel experience.)
Oh, and the food. Lots and lots of food. Oh my God the food. It was never-ending. The cooking, the washing dishes, the quantities, the shopping. And at the beginning, I was so nervous about food shortages (see above: End-of-the-World cabinet) that we would shop every day. And I was also wiping down packages fanatically. I also got a sewing machine right at the beginning to make masks. (For the record, I was hand-making cloth masks way before it was a thing. Unfortunately, nobody in my family was willing to be seen in public in them.)
All in all, I count myself very lucky. We have had the space (more or less), the resources, and the wherewithal to look after our family and extensions, most of us have made it to the vaccines, and we have thus far tfu tfu tfu avoided major illness. These are major conquests. Extremely lucky.
Still….well…. I think you know what I’m going to say.
Because while this is lovely, for women, there is always a price.
I mean, yes, family comes first. Health and safety come first. Gratitude for the abundance. Yes, yes, yes. Of course.
All of that. Sincerely.
Yet, the entire experience has been one of a certain regression. I have become the caretaker, feeder, worrier. I am like, almost literally stuck to my home. I have become everything I worked so hard NOT to be. I am the woman living off of my role as a mother.
I mean, if there is one lesson I learned from writing this book it’s this: I worked hard for the right and ability to live my life on my own terms, to do what is right for me, to follow my own ideas and dreams, and to be loyal to what works for me.
I didn’t realize how easily that could come apart with just a year of hunkering down.
There are just too many balls flying in the air. My house is no longer a place where I can easily tend to my own needs first. If at all. I’m not even sure what my needs are right now.
I’m not alone either. I have lots of friends whose jobs have sort of slid by as they become their children’s teachers, full-time carers, cooks and cleaners. I have one friend with a major corporate job who is doing carpool for the first time in her life. I have another friend whose husband, also at home, has not budged from working his 16 hour days – in front of the computer – while she juggles kids, school, home, and what’s left of her own job.
Statistics about this are everywhere. McKinsey did a major study about the regressive impact of Corona on eomwn. UN Women is studying how Corona is worsening the gender pay gap. Smithsonian Magazine has called the negative impact on women unprecedented.
And there’s another thing nagging at me that I used to have and now I can’t find – what is that? Oh yeah, ambition. You know, the feeling that I am striving towards doing a thing in the world. What is that? What world?
I mean, take the Women’s Party. Everyone who’s still involved in it deeply believes in it. But none of us has the time, strength, or wherewithal to push it forward. We’re all just, you know, tired. Busy. Just coping.
I mean, we are still working in a Corona kind of way and I'm sure we will run again. In some kind of post-Corona world.
Actually, the country seems to be in a complete electoral slumber. You’d barely even know that we are in an election. Last week, Merav Michaeli became the first woman to lead a major party in many years (assuming Labor is still a player, which is its own question) – and the news got snores. Yesterday, she created a list that was 50-50 women and men and that wasn’t even a top story.
Gender equality is just one issue that nobody is talking about. I mean, there is almost zero public discussion about how the Palestinians are faring in Corona. And despite tens of thousands of weekly protesters screaming about the end of democracy in Israel, I challenge you to find a media outlet here talking about the issues in a meaningful way.
The entire country is half asleep. But for women, the implications are that at a certain point, we are going to be waking up to a new reality. And I’m not just talking about the one in seven women who are living in a situation of domestic violence. The threat to women in precarious marriages who are stuck in quarantine with their abusers – this is the type of issue that keeps me up at night. Literally. There are a few women in my life who I worry about on a daily basis.
But even for those of us who are lucky to be in emotionally healthy relationships with lots of loving people around us, many of us are in a form of regression, losing some of our freedom and our fire. I don’t know how we are going to come out of. I mean, it has taken me 25 years to figure out how to listen to myself, how to do what’s right for me, how to not feel guilty about following my dreams. I was smack in the middle of doing all that when the walls came crumbling down. It’s going to be hard for women to find that again.
But for me, the economic or social deterioration is less significant than another one of my big battles, which I never quite won to begin with. And that is, the battle with my body. For me, the hardest part of all the quarantine has been the deleterious impact on my relationship with my body.
I read a story in Washington Post about how hard quarantine has been for women with eating disorders. It deeply resonated with me – and terrified me. This whole situation has completely undermined my relationship with food. I have no schedule, no constancy, and no stability. I am feeding a lot of other people before I feed myself. There are a million trigger foods around me. (Ben and Jerry’s anyone?) And plus, you know, when you feel like the world is ending, it’s hard to care about things like diet. Why should I?
I know I’m not alone in this. I see people walking around in their pajamas every day. And slippers. Oh, and has anyone worn a bra recently? I don’t even know where mine are. Why would we torture ourselves like that if we don’t absolutely have to.
I must say, there are things I won’t miss from pre-Corona days.
Still, if it has taken me 25 years to learn to listen to myself and my own needs, it has also taken me that long to stop using food as a recreational drug. Food was my salve for so many years. The bread, the pasta, the warm and heavy feeling in my stomach and my mouth that buffered me from pain. I did that for such a long time, and spent just as long unlearning all those addictions.
And now, here I am, in a house full of food and people and nowhere to go. It has been, well, you know. Food. It’s all about food.
At a certain point, I decided to go with it. Because food is also fun and a part of the gathering and one of the few ways to enjoy this strange time. I’ve pretty much given up all thought that I am in control of my kitchen. There are too many needs under one roof – vegans, pescatarians, carnivores who don’t eat gluten, and a few other variations that mean that I am always surrounded by foods that are addictive for me, and that I am often on the serving end. Have you ever tried to plan a meal that feeds both vegans and gluten-frees? There is a limited menu. Most meals have lots of variety so nobody walks away hungry. For me, being surrounded by so much food – which I often cook, though everyone participated – is both beautiful and overwhelming. And in the end, it is very hard for me to sit at a table with copious delicious food and not eat it. It feels depriving. Like the many Shabbat meals when I served and served while my father watched my waistline. It triggers those memories of being the server who is not allowed to eat. So I decided I’m not doing that. Instead, I’m just eating. I just eat, whatever I want whenever I want. Because anything else is too tormenting. I wonder if Geneen Roth would be proud of me. It’s not exactly intuitive eating, but I’m also not compulsively dieting right now. I’m just eating.
Maybe it will work out well in the end. Maybe my lesson at the end of this will be to not care about anything in the world and to eat what I feel like because, you know, eating is SO MUCH BETTER than not eating. Maybe those are empowering messages for women in their own ways.
Anyway, I know I’m lucky. Very, very, very lucky. In so many ways. But even some lucky women experience things that can be hard in unseen ways. I think that we are going to be seeing the impacts of these corona times for years to come. We don’t know how these experiences will affect us in the long-term. I hope that we as women can come back to the place where our needs count, too.
Like this post? Want to read more content like this? Then Purchase the book, Conversations with my Body, here from Lioness Books