For the last few years, our kids have been begging for a pool. My husband and I both had pools as kids growing up, real concrete in ground pools. We also have the memories of those very same pools, and all the work they entailed. Here in Israel, though, we have gotten used to seeing the pop up variety that comes in a box, with a free standing filter hooked up on the side. While being relatively ample, they are made of plastic. Year after year our children watched as our neighbors unloaded and set up these inviting modest bodies of water on their porches, and I always groaned when the question would come up yet again. Can we, may we, maybe please get a pool? It was always a flat 'no', occasionally interspersed by a resounding 'no way'! It was too much work. Too much responsibility. The idea of me sweltering in the Mid-East desert heat, day after day, watching our kids romping away while I melted into a pool of water myself (but not before turning into the wicked witch of the Middle East), was too much. That is, until this summer.
This summer, the family dynamics shifted so that there was actually an 'older' volunteer, who could not only supervise, but who could actually help take care of the myriads of tasks related to owning one of these pools. For the first time, the idea actually started to make sense, and the long stretch of summer actually promised to be more pleasant with a pool around. After much deliberation, we decided that the small patch of garden off of our laundry room would be the ideal place, and we called in our handy man 'A' (name has not been provided in order to protect his identity—and because we might need him to come back to fix something in the future).
We sat with Handyman A and priced everything out. We asked the relevant questions, weighed all options. We had a budget. The price seemed right. We gave the go ahead, and our cadre of very excited children (with a couple of neighbors thrown in for good measure) began preparations for our new family addition.
There was one problem.
I had expectations.
Lots of them.
What expectations could one possibly have, you ask? A pretty straight forward project, it seems. The fact that I was EXPECTING things to go smoothly was the first mistake. I EXPECTED things to stay in budget. I EXPECTED minimal fuss and hassle. And I EXPECTED things to not carry on for as long as they did. In short, I EXPECTED things to go swimmingly—he he. And that was my problem—expectations. HaShem took something as simple as a swimming pool, and filled it up with a big lesson—just for me.
So it all began with a little, er—a lot of cajoling on the parents part to get the kids to clear and weed the garden. There were a lot of weeds—and a lot of garbage. At first, with visions of a cool and inviting swimming pool literally swimming before their eyes, the work seemed to be progressing. I EXPECTED them to be finished at record speed. But even highly motivated kids are only human, and after much hard work, they were still not done.
“Keep going guys, you're doing great!” I said, making a beeline for the house, escaping the bug infested, sweltering garden for the cool air conditioned indoors. I gave them thumbs up gestures, glasses of ice water by way of encouragement. Unfortunately, things were NOT going as expected.
Handyman A turned up later on to check on the ground underneath all the semi- cleared debris. It was not a smooth patch of soil. It was half cement and half dirt and half lopsided.”You will need to fill this with some gravel,” he said.”I think you can invite a truck to do it,” he said in his thick Israeli accent. He proceeded to tell me that the truck's long metal arm would go over our neighbors garden, and basically dump everything, 'without a hitch' into our garden below. “No problem,” he said.
Suddenly, flashbacks sprouted before my eyes like little fungi infested mushrooms. Visions of when we last 'invited' a concrete truck to our house to pour cement for some renovations. Back then, Handyman A had proclaimed that there was a very—very small chance that the hose on the truck could explode—very small chance.
And it did.
Purim arrived early that year, as Handyman A went door to door to each of our neighbors, delivering chocolates and bottles of wine by way of apology for the rain of concrete that deluged everyone's front entrance ways and windows. Our next door neighbor's plant was critically maimed, and their front door has never been the same since.....
“No way!” I stated emphatically. No concrete trucks, no crane trucks! ...which left four still somewhat motivated boys, and a hill of dirt ripe for the picking right next to our building. A small mountain of dirt beckoned, the result of some previous construction. Like little ants traipsing up and down an anthill, they came back soon after, the proud bearers of a couple bags of dirt.
I looked at their tired faces, when a sudden—and unexpected thought flew right into my head.
“How do we know that hill is owner-less?” I asked. “Maybe we are not allowed to take any dirt from there?”
The boys shoulders slumped as I dialed the number to our local Rabbinical authority who just happened to be having consulting hours at that time. He ruled that we had to ask the city. I looked at the clock. Eight o'clock at night. I took a chance and dialed the city, when something completely unexpected happened...somebody answered! After outlining our question, we received a resounding NO. The dirt had to go back.
I let out a sigh. This pool was becoming more and more complicated by the minute. I let out an exasperated sigh, and told the boys to leave the dirt by the door until the morning.....
The next day, the boys came excitedly into the house. They had called the city during regular working hours, and were told they could take as much dirt as they liked. Maybe the janitor had answered the previous night?
After enough bags of dirt were spread, the bricks broken to make the ground more even, and more bags of sand brought in by hand (by Handyman A and son) we were ready to put down the synthetic grass we had bought. Wow, one more day, I thought, and all will be done....(there went those pesky expectations again....)
Handyman A proceeded to layer the grass with an anti-weed tarp, Styrofoam, and the synthetic grass. He then grabbed a metal pole in order to construct a fence to keep out the pose of neighborhood cats that had taken over our garden, rendering it unusable (but that's a story for another time). I left Handyman A to finish his work, when suddenly, he came in all flustered.
“I cannot finish this work!” he cried. “Every time I touch the hammer, it flies out of my hand!”
Ooooookay, I thought—I did so not EXPECT this!
“What are you saying, exactly?”
He went on to explain that there was an extremely high static charge coming from the ground. Each time he would touch metal, he received a nasty jolt. What follows could fill pages...the call to grass distributors, manufacturers...the lack of willing volunteers (i.e our children) who refused to run around the grass to test the static charge—my dissolving in tears in front of a helpless handyman who was not only flustered by the conundrum of the grass, but by my emotional outburst...oy! EXPECTATIONS! I thought this would be finished by now!
Two hundred shekels of Styrofoam down the literal pool drain later (in the end it wasn't the Styrofoam—oh, well, kapara) and a few good sessions on Google, it turns out the grass just needed time to emit the static charge out of its 'system'. Once we knew what to do, Handyman A was able to finish his job, get the grass down, and finally set up the pool. As the hoses were set to begin filling up the pool with its welcoming cool waters, I indulged in a couple of more moments of pleasant EXPECTATIONS (there they go again), allowing my mind to thrill at the impending fun that was just about ours...
“Michal,”came the voice of Handyman A (yes, that is what I am called in these here parts—but that's another story).
“What now?”I asked in a trembly sort of apprehensive sort of quavering voice.
“The filter does not fit this pool,”said Handyman A. “They sell you an expensive filter that does not work!”
That's it! I told my son, the Hebrew speaker of course, to call the store IMEDIATELY and tell them they better fix this—or else! After some high pitched persuasion, the man at the store agreed to come—if we paid for his taxi.
“Whatever! Just get him here right now!” I yelped. I EXPECTED this to have been finished already!
Mickey Mouse*, as he will forever be referred to in our house, because of his shirt bearing the aforementioned character, showed up promptly. I know this is not nice, but he didn't tell us his name.....anyway, I thought Mickey Mouse would prove to be the final antidote, the final push, if you will. I EXPECTED Mickey Mouse to be done with this thing, once and for all... except—he couldn't get the filter to work, either. To his credit, he stayed out there for over an hour, until he managed to get that filter to filter. Triumphantly, Mickey Mouse waltzed out, refusing any further remuneration for his heroic work, and I thought I would just collapse from joy! The kids grabbed their bathing suits and jumped in! And I—well...
I thought back to this entire pool saga, spanning the better part of two weeks. How we had to cut our lemon bush, that turned out to be a lemon tree, and the panic as the gardener approached with his huge electric saw—as I second guessed myself that he might just kill it, which was a sin, and the frantic call to the Rabbi upstairs who came running to make sure it was not in jeopardy—but that's another story...
I though about the story within the story, and how HaShem just wants us to trust—without EXPECTATIONS. I thought about all the unnecessary aggravation and frustration that we could spare ourselves if we went through life not expecting, but accepting. If we took each moment as it came, without second guessing our Creator's Master Plan. How we push ourselves into corners day after day that we can't come out off, because of those pesky little things called expectations; and how these very same expectations are able to drive a wedge in our relationships with man, and with HaShem—pesky little things they are!
I am not going to say that I perfected the fine art of not having expectations. I do try to remember the lesson that filtered right down to my backdoor, in the shape of a modest swimming pool—and hopefully, it is one lesson that will not swim away....
*Mickey Mouse, as our pool hero is referred to, is not meant as a derogatory name—please consult you local Rabbinic authority before attaching an appendage to someone after a cartoon character on their shirt, because it might be considered to be Lashon Hara—or something like that.