Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Myth of the SuperMom

I never imagined that the career driven woman I once was would be saying the following words: next to Motherhood, the rest is a distraction.

My cousin, her Russian-Israeli husband and their seven month old daughter came to visit yesterday; as they live in California these days, it was quite a rare treat. It felt wonderful to have another new mother of a baby girl in the same room, to compare notes and share advice. And of course it was sheer pleasure to watch Raphaela and their daughter Lia "play" together and speak what I call Pebbles-Talk, as much as infants can be said to interact. (As in baby girl Pebbles from the television cartoon, the Flintstones.)

At one point, my cousin, who is head of the Hillel at Stanford University, asked me if I planned on breast feeding exclusively, once I went back to work full time. Having been asked that question many times in the last three months, I enthusiastically replied, "Absolutely!" My cousin sighed, and said that she had tried the breast feeding/pumping/working plan, and that once Lia got to six months, something had to give. Now Lia receives bottles instead of the breast, and doesn't look any worse for it.

I am often accused by random Israeli women of naivete and First Child Syndrome, if I believe that the breast feeding can continue as I intend.

We both expressed the sentiment that no matter how intelligent, motivated or organized, a modern woman cannot achieve excellence in all aspects of her life, especially when a baby comes into the picture. The Super Mom Myth has pushed many a woman - single or married - to sleepless nights and over-scheduled days, and in the end, it is most likely the woman and her family who suffer the consequences. Having attended Barnard College, where women roar the loudest and must definitely conquer the world, I still have come to the conclusion that there must be priorities in my life.

I choose Raphaela, over Chiropractic and my professional aspirations. She is my long-term project, and I am happy and secure in the statement that I cannot have it all, and that is OK.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Girl Power

One of the first baby books I read by Penelope Leech, contained a sentence which at the time gave me much joy and relief. She stated that whether you are talking about a married couple or a single parent, as long as a child has one consistent and loving figure in their early life, they will grow up to achieve emotional health and loving bonds with others. For most children it is the mother who provides that stability, while a helpful father/husband can only help. (The opposite is also true, according to Dr. Phil, who stresses the importance of parents providing a unified front; children will manipulate and take advantage of any cracks in authority, ultimately resulting in a damaged upbringing.)

Today, Savta Shira came with me to the care taker, to pick Raphaela up after my short Chiropractic work day. As I, Savta Shira and Elana sat in the same room, I marveled at Raphaela's blessed life. She has a mother who will always love her and take care of her, an adopted grandmother who showers her with affection, and a care taker who gives her stability and structure where I sometimes fail to do so. Three amazing and committed women.

I of course hope that my father and extended family will add positive male role models, and I still do not rule out the idea of my being married some day to a husband and lover, and a father to my daughter. I wish for my daughter to have the same closeness and connection with my mother as I had with my grandmother, Rebbecca Keller, for whom Raphaela was named. At the moment, because there is the small matter of 6,000 miles, my parents have taken on the serious duty of grandparents and have begun to plan a party for Raphaela, when we go to the States to visit for Pessach. At last they have come to fully embrace their part in my daughter's life, and want to introduce her to their extended community.

I do, however, want to state for the record that I in no way believe the Jewish Old Wives Tale that warns that if you do not have a festive meal for a daughter, they will not find the appropriate match for marriage. Religion was meant for higher goals than that of gossip and scare tactics.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Biological Connections

I am not at all close with my biological father (S), who divorced my mother when I was less than five years old, and moved to California before my Bat Mitzvah. As you can imagine, the years of ugly custody battles and law suits to force S to pay child support did not endear him to me.

When I moved to Israel in 1997, I briefly reconnected with S through email, and that attempt failed after six months, because he did not wish to sustain it. As it stands for me, in the present, I have let go of the confusion and anger with the help of temporal and physical distance, as well as with several years of intense therapy; we email each other once or twice a year, for Rosh Hashana and birthdays.

My mother - derided by the Jewish community as a divorcee/ single parent, when it certainly was not in fashion - remarried when I was seven, and this man for all intents and purposes raised me; I love "Dad" and feel his love as if I were his own from the beginning, and so I have no complaints in the father territory.

When Raphaela was born, I felt I had to acknowledge S for being my sperm donor, so to speak. He was a terrible parent and though basically absent from my life and my consciousness, I must admit and be thankful for the fact that without him, I would not exist. And so I sent S an announcement of my daughter's birth, along with some pictures, because he is technically Raphaela's grandfather. I did not expect him to fulfill the title in any practical way, but he deserved to know.

Today I received a rather generous check from my biological father, for my daughter, his grand- daughter, and being properly trained in the New England fashion, immediately sent out a thank you note. How nice that he can get past his ambivalence toward me, and contribute to my daughter's welfare. My expectations go no further.

I debated telling my mother about this gift, and decided that what she doesn't know won't hurt her, in this particular case. It would spark a discussion of S's financial and mental state, which ignites her insecurities even after 31 years of a loving and nurturing relationship with Dad. Why couldn't he have paid child support when my brother and I were young, and my mother needed the money for basics? And does he think he can buy his way back into my life when he has neglected me (or done worse) all these years, etc.

Families get very complicated.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Resenting the Breast

In Gina Ford's Contented Little Baby Book, she writes that it is not a badge of shame if a mother chooses the bottle over the breast - even though "Breast is best." - because the most important key to a happy child is a happy and well rested mother. No child ever died from being breast fed.

I have to admit that she made me feel a little better about the feelings of guilt I have been experiencing lately, when Raphaela latches on and I feel this pain and sensitivity in my nipples, and I wonder if the breast feeding is worth all the fuss.

Both my La Leche counsellor (and a Barnard sister) and my doctor assure me that the sensitivity could be a commonplace Candida (Thrush) infection, and I have already started using the cream the doctor gave me. Mostly, I love the time with her on my breast because I know that it serves us both well emotionally and physically; I look forward to that smile on her face when she is done eating.

But I am human, and I cannot deny that the pain makes me jump and instills in me some fear, which would then presumably affect the supply of my milk in the short and long run. Sometimes I like expressing much better and giving it to Raphaela in a bottle, it is my milk without the pain. I am hoping that this period passes and we resume our happy routine, because I intend on breast feeding for at least six months.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

#?!@# Schedules

Last week, my excellent caretaker introduced me to her "Baby Bible," Gina Ford's Contented Little Baby Book. In truth, it was the first among all I have read that spoke to me, because she was spot on in her analysis of Raphaela's (and other babies her approximate age) daily cycles and rhythms. Except for a four hour break in eating which doesn't suit my daughter, all the naps and feedings coordinate exactly, when you stick to her regimen.

If only Raphaela would not wake up at four am instead of the Ford seven am expectation. At this hour she is wide awake, eyes bright and stomach hungry. Sometimes she falls asleep again and sometimes - like this morning - she immediately becomes overtired and cranky and needing to be held continuously. I have not gotten anything done, as it is next to impossible when you need to lug around 11 pounds of baby girl to avoid the shrieking that could shatter crystal glasses. No shower, no breakfast, no expressing my engorged breasts.

I didn't expect Raphaela to conform to a strict timeline the first week, though the book says it can happen within 48 hours; but thank G-d I am taking her to the caretaker for four hours today while I work with grown-up Chiropractic clients. We both need the break from each other, and the money I make can go towards therapy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

CSI: The Case of the Missing Lamaze Bugs

Little people like Raphaela have little toys. While I was still in recovery at Hadassah after the birth, I received as a gift the developmental toy from Lamaze, with two hand rattles and two foot rattles. They are all in the shape of various bugs, great bold colors and black and white stripes, and are meant to cause excitement in her neurons when she discovers her extremities.

Two weeks ago, I noticed that one of the bugs (a lady bug) went missing. It was clearly on the changing table last time I checked, and now it was gone. I checked in the obvious places and some less than obvious options, and the lady bug is no where to be found. When the cleaner came on Friday, I gave him the mission to search for this toy while he takes care of the rest of the house.

This past week, the second hand bug went missing. Again, it was clearly in its designated spot on the changing table on Friday morning, and on Sunday morning it had sadly vanished.

I have three suspects in mind:
1. Myself, as my level of exhaustion may lead me to do silly things, like throw things away with the dirty diapers without noticing.
2. Harry. The cat has been hanging out in Raphaela's room lately, recovering from an injury to his paw. Perhaps he perceived Bug as a threat akin to a small mouse and battered it to death.
3. The Cleaning Guy. Never emotionally stable to begin with, he has developed what I fear is an unhealthy attachment to my house and to my daughter. The same way that serial killer collect souvenirs, perhaps he is taking home one of her toys each week. It gives me the creeps to think about it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Only in Israel

Today I had a dental appointment, and originally, one of my friend's daughters was going to baby sit while I had my teeth cleaned, but they took a day trip in the end and were not available. When I arrived at the office, I apologized that I did not have someone to watch over Raphaela, and that I hoped she would not be too much trouble.

Immediately, one older woman sitting in the waiting room offered to feed her a bottle, and the secretaries assured me that they would love to take care of her while I had my check up and treatment. In fact, I did not see my daughter for a half hour, and at one point, one of the secretaries came into the room to let me know that they were changing her diaper. When I finished my appointment, I saw another random woman, who was waiting for her daughter, rocking Raphaela to sleep in her stroller.

Only in Israel would I feel such warm support, and only in Israel would I give my daughter to strangers without hesitation.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Financial Concerns

Having grown up in Manhattan, I normally appreciate the candid behaviour (called "Dugriut" in Hebrew) of Israelis. Most of the time, I appreciate when a person speaks to me directly, straight up, without sugar coating or playing the supposedly polite politically correct game.

Yesterday, however, this was not the case. My cousin's wife, a highly educated, intelligent and "dugrit" Israeli, gave me a whole lecture about how I better get back to full-time work as soon as possible, as I don't want to lose my Chiropractic clients and get my daughter thrown out into the street because we won't be able to pay the rent. I should have a sitter put my child to bed at night so I can take late patients, etc. To prove her point, she casually mentioned that she started working two weeks after her youngest daughter was born, and she took the baby to all her business meetings.

I get it, she has five children and she knows better than me. I get it, I am a single parent and I need to worry about my child more so than the traditional parent.

Thanks (NOT). I had already gotten into a frame of mind of thinking about money issues, about how many hours I would have to work to cover our expenses without my losing out on precious time with Raphaela. I have come to accept that I will earn less per month because I will quite simply not be putting in the hours I used to, before the pregnancy and before I gave birth.

If someone said to me, right now, here's enough money to cover you for the next year, I would close my office and never look back. But I cannot afford to do that right now, unless some random relative I have never met dies and leaves me his estate. (I am not counting on that option, just putting it out there to the Greater Universe.) I also don't want Raphaela to feel the stress of just getting by emotionally or financially, because I believe that babies are especially perceptive to mood and emotions.

Yesterday, Raphaela pulled herself into a sitting position and held her back there, and she has begun to 'speak' spontaneously; I cannot afford to miss that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Traveling with a Baby

Today I confirmed our tickets to the States for Pessach, as well as confirming that the bassinet will come along with the bassinet seat on British Airways. On the one hand, I can't wait to see Raphaela interacting with her cousins, she reveled in the company of other children on our first weekend away. On the other hand, I now have a whole new list of concerns regarding traveling with a six-month old infant, as I have never done it before.

In addition, it appears that between the two of us, we only get two pieces of luggage, and I was so hoping to shop at Childrens Place and buy the store out...

Onto my list of premature worries:
1. How will I get myself, a baby and her stroller, and two pieces of luggage out of my house and to Ben Gurion Airport?
2. How will I get myself, a baby and her stroller and two pieces of luggage to the check in area?
3. Will Raphaela melt down while we are waiting to board the plane?
4. Will she melt down at any part of the flight, or during the three hour layover in Heathrow?
5. How will I get my tired self, a tired baby and her stroller and two pieces of luggage out of the airport and through customs in Boston?
6. How much a disruption will occur in Raphaela's sleeping and eating patterns, while we are in America for two weeks, and how long will the effect last once we return to Israel?
7. How will I get my tired self, a baby and her stroller and two much heavier pieces of luggage out of customs once we return to Israel?
8. How will I drag myself and my child home after that long trip?
9. How can I afford to take off two and a half weeks of work, in addition to all the shopping that is bound to take place?

On the up side, as an Israeli I will only be doing one Seder.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

First "Away" Weekend

In the two and a half months that Raphaela has been born, we have attended a few Friday night dinners at friends, and some Shabbat lunches as well. On Friday nights, whether I am at home alone with her or in someone else's house, I rarely get to eat past the first course. Even during the week, a civilized dinner has become a rare luxury.

This weekend, the baby and I are going to Efrat, to stay at the home of one of my oldest college friends; her husband runs a regimented and religious routine with their four children, and I have already let them know that my life is anything but orderly these days.

On the more banal side, I have no idea how to pack for a 36 hour period outside the house, other than the obvious ie diapers. I am also having a hard time dealing with my own anticipated discomfort, when I have to breast feed or if she keeps the family awake at night. I worry about Raphaela's reaction to a strange (non-home) environment, and the change in her routines.

On a more existential level, this weekend brings up the recurring conflict I experience regarding organized religion. This issue comes up for me every time the baby and I spend time with my cousins as well, who are Modern Orthodox but also place 100% emphasis on the Torah and Judaism in their home, in the way they raise their children.

I was raised in the New York Metropolitan area in the Yeshiva University/Rav Soleveitchik model: you can be a Jew with the Torah as your moral and behavioural compass, and also enjoy the benefits of the secular life and contribute on the 'outside.' My father, who got smicha (Rabbinic ordination) from Rav Soleveitchik, took us mixed swimming. I wore jeans, I took art lessons and drew nudes. Of course we watched television. In the past 20 years, most of the Jewish world has moved to the right, whereas I have stayed in essentially the same place, so now I am the less religious sibling, if you don't count my brother the agnostic.

I can pick and choose because I have the Jewish academic background and the personal experience of Orthodox Judaism, and I understand what parts of observance are truly important and what aspects derive from the male-dominated establishment and their need to control the religious population through fear. I find the synagogue atmosphere stifling and quite frankly, boring after a while; though for my daughter, it could become a place where she sees her friends, and therefore it inherits a positive image.

Living in Israel, however, presents a challenge for raising Raphaela. Israel, by the virtue of being The Jewish State, permeates with a cultural atmosphere of Judaism without necessarily keeping the Torah to the letter of the law. Secular Israeli friends of mine drive on Shabbat, and yet keep a kosher home, have Pessach seder and know more about the Torah than many Orthodox Jews in America.

And therein lies the question: do I educate my child in the Orthodox way, even though I find so many aspects random and distasteful? How can I offer her a choice as she gets older, if she does not realize and understand all the options available to her? And how can I explain to my child that there will be many within the Orthodox community who will look down on her, because of the way she came into this world, even when I followed halacha?

American Consulate: The Seventh Circle of Hell

Savta Shira was supposed to come with us this morning, to be an extra set of hands, but she got the flu. Raphaela waking up at 2:30 this morning did not help matters.

I had lived a full day with her by the time we had to leave for the American Consulate in East Jerusalem, to register her birth and apply for a passport. We took a cab during the height of rush hour, and every time we stopped at a red light, the baby cried; she prefers movement of any kind.

Upon arrival, we did not have to wait too long on line, but I had to check the stroller and car seat, and carry her for the remainder of this form of citizenship torture. ("You want to be an American citizen? How badly do you want it? I dare you.")

Window 5: "You're a single parent? I have to clear this with my supervisor."

Thus ensued a conference of sorts, to decide how they deal with an apparently strange case like mine, which ended up with me having to provide ten pages of proof, and then sit in the corner. At one point I was standing, trying to feed Raphaela a bottle with one hand and locate documentation from my bag at the same time; I must have looked so exhausted and flummoxed that a kind stranger (a young religious woman) came over and offered to finish the feeding. When Raphaela started crying out of impatience and I was trying to calm her, another stranger (a recent convert to Judaism) said to me, "You look like you're about to cry yourself."

Then came the big interview, in which the supervisor tried to trick me into revealing that I am actually a Russian spy, or that I borrowed someone else's baby. (No and no...) I passed her interrogation, even put on a bit of a Bostonian accent, and then had to maneuver myself, two bags and a baby through a small turnstile door. You guessed it, we got stuck in between the metal spokes and the exit. Call in the extraction team and Security.

Outside and around the corner of the street in order to return to the front gate in order to claim my stroller and cell phone.

In the cab on the way home - it took a while to hail a cab - I looked at the receipt from the Consulate and noticed that they had spelled my last name wrong, which meant that her passport would be incorrect. I consoled myself at the bakery near my house, with my first jelly doughnut of the Israeli Chanukah season, and a serious cup of coffee to stop my hands from shaking.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Latest Obsession: Gilmore Girls

The television series, Gilmore Girls, is now running on Israeli Channel Three, and I have become addicted to the show. Not only because the star is a Barnard graduate, and I am a proud alumna, but because it portrays a woman who has raised a wonderful daughter as a single parent.

And the other characters are quirky and the dialogue is sharp.

I don't delude myself into thinking that television is real life, but it is not often that a single mother situation is portrayed in such a positive light, and that comforts me. It is a hell of a lot better than watching shows like Friends, which remind me of my miserable single days on the Upper West Side in The City.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Israeli Logic Will Kill You

Explain this: at the mall, the reserved parking for mothers with babies in carriages is right next to the designated (and densely populated) smoking area. That way, newborns and their breast feeding mothers get to inhale all that healthy second-hand smoke.

Huh? (And this in a country that values family and encourages population growth...)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Parent Protecsia

I learned this week that "Protecsia," an essential concept of living and survival in Israel, works even better when your prop includes a baby in a stroller.

I had always resented that men and women who had family obligations could use their children or spouses as excuses, whereas it was assumed that I, as a single professional, did not have any responsibilities, or for that matter, a life. Why couldn't I work until eight at night, after all, what else could monopolize my time or my interest?

I started to return to work this week, albeit on an extremely limited scale; on the one hand, a few hours apart from my daughter is good and healthy for both of us, but I am not ready to give up time with her, as she learns and changes daily. One patient came 20 minutes late, and for the first time in my Chiropractic career, I was able to say without any hesitation or guilt that she would receive less time, because I had other obligations. I had a child to pick up from her care taker. This pronouncement was accepted immediately, in a child-friendly and family-friendly country like Israel, who could refuse the mother of a newborn.

Today, Raphaela and I woke up earlier than usual, in order to get to downtown Jerusalem and apply for an infant passport. Though I have a car and drive to most places, I dislike the parking situation in the Jaffa Road area, messy to begin with and worse with the never-ending light rail construction. So we took a cab (Raphaela's first cab ride!) and when we arrived at the offices of the Ministry of the Interior, the guard immediately pushed me and my stroller to the head of the line. Because I was the only person on line with a two month old baby, I bypassed the normal procedure, was the first to be processed and spent a total of 15 minutes in their offices, a personal record.

In fact, I was then able to go to two other government offices in the same general area, walk home with the stroller from the center of town to my neighborhood, and still have a late breakfast at ten am. This morning far surpassed my expectations, with Raphaela quietly sleeping in the stroller and allowing us access and privilege I have never experienced before.

I can't wait to be one of those mothers who gets to board a plane before all the other sardines in Coach.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Separation Anxiety

Yesterday marks the first day of the Separation Experiment, I dropped Raphaela off at the house of the baby sitter of choice for four hours, while I stayed home and saw a few patients, did some laundry and managed to fit in a decent un-interrupted lunch.

Yes, I cried a little when I left her, but I quite liked getting back into the grown-up world, if only for a few hours. When I picked Raphaela up, she was clean and content and playing with the baby sitter's Brain Gym; I got a big smile and from there we went about our day together. I know she is only two months, and yet now is the time to get her used to strangers who will be taking care of her for the small hours during the week when I go back to the Chiropractic work full time.

I felt like it was the first day of school, I laid out her clothing and her supplies, and we arrived early, as even childbirth will not erase my "Yekke" nature. This morning, Day Two, we slept in a little, I suppose to make up for the great change of yesterday.

We are OK, both of us.