31 December 2010

El Al nightmare

Dear El Al,

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Shanna Giora-Gorfajn, and I, along with my three-year old twins, my husband, and my mother- and father-in-law, arrived in Israel this week on the El Al Flight 002 scheduled to depart on Dec. 26 from JFK. As you are probably aware, it didn't: instead, we spent 30 hours at the airport, ten of which were on a plane sitting out on the tarmac in a blizzard. We thought it was a little unlikely that the flight would actually take off, given the forecast, and had called El Al several times that day to reconfirm. Each time we were told that yes, the flight was scheduled; yes, we should come to the airport. Had we chosen to stay home, we would have forfeited our tickets. There was no option for exercising our own judgment that leaving for the airport in a blizzard was insanity.

So we went, narrowly avoiding an accident on the way in near-whiteout conditions, but arriving in plenty of time to check in and board--as it turned out, with about 30 hours to spare. I don't need to describe the misery for you--you know, as does everyone who saw it on CNN and Israeli news channels. And of course I recognize that the weather is not El Al's fault. The plane's inability to take off was not El Al's fault. Although the was nowhere to sleep and limited access to kosher food, the staff did what they could, under very trying circumstances, to make things more comfortable. But there wasn't much that anyone could do to make that situation anything but a nightmare.

It would be nice, though, if you could do what you can after the fact to be sure that we don't lose part of our trip as a result. We were glad to hear that El Al was waiving the rebooking fee to extend our trip, so that we would still be able to see all the family and friends we had come to Israel to see. I was delighted when my travel agent told me that there were four adjacent seats available on Flight 001 on Jan 9, two days later than our original return flight. Except that I later discovered, after my travel agent spoke to several El Al representatives, that we can't--because El Al will not permit me to rebook my tickets, except in the exact same ticket class for the exact same price. So no, we cannot fly back to JFK on Saturday night. If I want four seats for myself, my husband, and my children, I can only fly back to Newark, several days later, missing another week of work--and without our car and the children's car seats, which are currently at JFK. No, thank you. Really? Only in the exact same ticket class? Even though there are seats available on the exact flight we need? Even though we spent over 40 hours getting from New York to Tel Aviv? Even though, once El Al made the decision not to cancel the flight, we had no option but to go to the airport and hope for the best, or lose thousands of dollars that we had paid for tickets?

My father-in-law and my children had never been to Israel before, and I hoped this trip, although short, would be an delightful first experience for them, with many future trips to follow. My in-laws have already decided to leave as planned, and I am certain their travel nightmare has overshadowed any enjoyable experiences here. It is not too late for me to give my children a good first taste of the land.

You don't have control over the weather. You do have control over how you treat your customers. You can, and should, treat us better than this.

Shanna Giora-Gorfajn
052-339-8196 (in Israel, return flight booked for El Al flight #1 on Jan 7)
617-xxx-xxxx (in the US thereafter)

cc: [travel agent-redacted]

03 March 2010

Please Deliver Between 2035 and 2040

Dear Children,

I want to tell you about something I used to do when you were three years old. At the end of naptime, I would turn on the hallway light, leave the door to your room open, and sit on one of your stools at the foot of your beds. I would gaze adoringly into your sweet sleeping faces. I would kiss you gently on your smooth, delicious foreheads.

I would then tickle your noses and bellies to wake you up. I don't think you liked that part very much.


30 November 2009

Don't Tell Nawlins

I am frantically trying to find something for the kids to eat for lunch. Pasta is out as there is a potential dinner playdate today and it will be the safest bet for that. No fish sticks in the freezer, no polenta in the fridge, no couscous in the cupboard.

"Hey..." I venture. "Do you guys want some...uh...fake sausage? With...tomato sauce? And, um...some rice?"

Wrinkled noses, a mini-chorus of "No!"

Thirty seconds later...

"Hey, do you guys want some gumbo?"

"Yeah! Gumbo!"

Onions, carrots, sausage, frozen spinach, tomato sauce, a little spicy veggie broth. Saute first three, add everything else, simmer, serve over rice. They gobbled it up. It's amazing what's in a name.

15 November 2009

Independent Entities

Somewhere along the line, I picked up a tip for convincing a willful preschooler to be a little more cooperative. If it involves a body part in any way shape or form, you give that body part its own identity, needs, and wants, and ask the child to help it out. Don't want to use the potty? That's okay, but your tushie wants to get rid of some poop, so can you just sit on the potty for a few minutes so your tushie can push the poop out?

We tried this tonight at dinner, when both Rafi and Rita decided they were done after only a few bites of lasagna. Magically, their tummies developed minds of their own (voiced by Mommy), and both tummies insisted they were soooooo hungry. "Feed me!" Rita's tummy pleaded. "I want more lasagna!"

A little smile took over Rita's face. "Okay. I'll feed my tummy!" Giggling, Rita stabbed a piece of lasagna with her fork, lifted it...and aimed for her belly button.

13 September 2009

First Day of Preschool

I barely slept Wednesday night. After finally setting aside clothes for the first day, I got it into my head to fold (most of) the mountain of laundry we generated after returning from our week in NY. I'm not quite sure what I did with the rest of the night, but it was 5 AM before I knew it, and I barely managed an hour of sleep before Rita came into our room.

Miraculously, her early wake-up for the day didn't impact her enjoyment of school at all. She and Rafi were (mostly) cooperative in getting dressed, eagerly put on their backpacks to head downstairs, tolerated several rounds of posed First Day pictures, and bounded down the street with fewer than half a dozen pauses to examine cracks in the sidewalk and idling trucks in the road.

Once at school, they found their cubbies, helped me put away their spare clothes, settled their backpacks inside, and dashed off into the classroom before I could even turn around. I really think that if the school didn't require that parents stay through the entire (hour-long) first session, I could have left them right then and there. Instead, I had the privilege of watching them explore a sand table, a deluxe kitchen and dining area, and more new-to-them toys than I could count. Clean up, circle time, and - just like that - the first day of school was done.

I can't wait for them to go back on Tuesday.

10 September 2009

Two Little Fish

In about seven hours, Rafi and Rita and I will head out the door and down the street for their first day of preschool. A typical mother would have their First Day Of School outfits laid out (probably new clothes), bags of spare clothes packed, camera waiting, and home at least somewhat tidy so as to streamline the process of getting out the door in the morning.

Me? I did manage to find a dress and leggings for Rita that match each other and do not have any visible stains. And I set aside a polo for Rafi, but I have no clue which of his pants will match it, be suitable for the weather (mid-teens/low-60s, depending on your preferred system), and go with sneakers (they do have new sneakers). Their sandals would match better for both outfits, but they are definitely showing wear. Besides, the other parents will think I'm a loon for putting myself in sandals in mid-September - better they don't think I'm abusive for doing the same to my children.

I have a spare outfit set aside for him, but I can't find the cubby-box-clothes I had in mind for her (you know...the ones that still fit, but are stained and a little shlumpy so you won't miss them at home). Extra socks - check. Spare diapers stuffed and set aside; the school is planning to use disposable wipes and zipper-locking plastic bags as needed. Of course nothing is labeled, since I only got around to ordering clothing labels about 90 minutes ago.

The living room and kitchen are in shambles, with most of our summer clothes recently laundered and tossed on every available surface, waiting to be folded and put away. This should add to the excitement of looking for Rita's spare clothes or even finding a clean shirt for myself in the morning. I still need to memorize the door code to get us into the building. I'll have to remember to ask Julian where the camera is before he leaves for work. And I should probably make sure I actually have my wallet with me when I walk out the door in the morning.

We're not terrible parents, though. Just before bathtime, we presented the children with their first backpacks, with their initials embroidered on the flaps. Tucked into each bag was the welcome note from their teachers. They unzipped and rezipped the bags, and had us read them their notes over and over, pointing out each teacher's face several times. I shortened the shoulder straps as much as possible, and they danced around their room with bags on their backs, their faces filled with pride and delight.

They could go to school in tattered t-shirts and ragged shorts, but if they put on those smiles every time they put on their backpacks, they'll be the best-dressed kids in the world.