Friday, December 31, 2010

Young Love

When I picked up Raphaela from Gan today, the older group of children was celebrating a boy's third birthday.  Afterward, they distributed birthay cake to all the children in the Gan, and the mother said to me, "You know my son talks about Raphaela all the time at home.  He says he loves her, and when I ask him why, he says, 'Because whenever I talk to her, she smiles at me.'" 

Then the mother asked the boy in front of me, "Why do you like Raphaela?"  He shyly answered (in Hebrew),"She's so cute."

I thank G-d that I got one of the good kids.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mommy's Morning Off

This morning when I got dressed, instead of my usual jeans and comfy Winter shirt, I put on stockings and a mini-skirt, a nice sweater and jewelry in honor of my friend's son's Bar Mitzvah.  It felt nice to walk into Gan to drop off Raphaela, looking like I had dressed up for an occasion, and having her nursery teacher notice that I don't dress down all the time.

I know this Bar Mitzvah boy since he started out in the womb, he and his family made aliyah around the same time as I did.  He performed well, and afterwards I caught up with some people I had not seen in a long time; I can't remember the last time I walked into a shul by myself and could relax without worrying about Raphaela's attention span.  Everyone came up to me and said, "Where's your baby?!" As if I am not complete without my daughter.

Of course the Universe works its magic, and I ended up sitting next to a single mother by choice, who had her seven month old son with her at the event.  Without knowing that I shared her story, she told how she is tired all the time, but that it is all worthwhile every time he smiles.  She lamented that sometimes it is hard when she or her son are not feeling well, and she does not have help in the house.  I gave her my phone number, and told her that we JSMBC have to support each other, and that she is not alone.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Winter's Summer Day at the Zoo

There is a collective sigh of guilt when an Israeli says these days,  "What a beautiful day, what gorgeous weather."  Israel desperately needs the rain, and yet how can you not take your child to the zoo for the afternoon, the sunshine practically begs you to spend the day outside.

For the first time since I got my zoo membership, I did not get lost, but rather took the correct road at the first try, and even found a short cut.  The G-d of Parking was good to me, I could not have happened upon a better spot, as close to the front gate as possible.  Because Raphaela and I arrived in the early afternoon, we did not have to fight any crowds, and we explored parts of the zoo we had never see before.  At various points I parked her stroller in the shade, and we enjoyed the picnic I had packed for us.

Raphaela, G-d bless her, offered every animal some of her food.  She also made friends with every other child she saw, the majority of whom were Arab.  One five year old girl had a camera and was attempting to take a picture of the napping tiger, and Raphaela pulled on her sleeve and posed, "I am ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille." 

This only reinforces my claim, that no child is born with bias, it is the parents who instill values;  I maintain that the children are the key to the future of the Middle East.

Bonus points for today's outing:  because she did not nap all afternoon, she barely made a fuss when I tucked her into bed tonight.  I may even have a quiet night to myself.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Raphaela's Friends, Mommy's Friends

I have finally achieved the status of a Gan Mommy.

One of the other mothers, whose daughter is in Raphaela's group, invited the two of us over for a meal, so the girls could play together and so we could get to know each other better.  I felt warm and accepted, having other parents reach out to me, it is the first time in literally years that I am making new adult friends, thanks to my daughter.

Tonight is Christmas Eve, and normally I attend the annual YMCA special concert of 300 year old tower bells; Raphaela loves music as well, and I know she would enjoy hearing these unusual rich sounds.  But because it is Shabbat we will be socializing instead, with our Gan friends.  Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Big Decisions

For the first time since Raphaela's birth, I feel myself embracing the idea of my daughter not as an extension of me, but rather as her own person, and that I as her caretaker have the important responsibility to allow her to explore the limits of her will, towards establishing an independent identity.

I am enjoying this shift as well, and this week scheduled a guilt-free haircut, massage and facial;  I can be a woman and treat myself nicely, outside Raphaela's needs.

In fact, this course of thinking has taken me one step further, into an area that makes me sad and joyful at the same time.  I am still nursing, not because it provides essential nutritional, but because we both enjoy the quiet and intimacy of the time we spend together.  (Plus I think it is a wonder of nature that my body can provide milk for Raphaela!)  However, Raphaela has fallen into the habit of waking up once or sometimes twice in the middle of the night for a "Boobies Snack."  She eats and within ten minutes goes back to sleep, but my sleep cycle has been ruined.

I am tired all the time, and unless I can train her to nurse only during the day time, I fear I may have to wean her altogther.  I don't know how to do that, though I suspect it will be difficult for both of us.

Monday, December 20, 2010

How Many Children do I Have?

Every day, when I go to work, there is a corner reserved on my cabinet for the items that give me joy, and remind me of my real priorities in life. 

At the moment, right next to a recent picture of Raphaela, I have placed one of my brother's business cards.  My youngest brother recently graduated from college and is spending the year working as a prestigious Presidential Fellow at Yeshiva University.  He and I have always had a strong and deep connection, despite the 19 year age difference, I am so proud of the person he has become, and can't wait to see how he will fulfill his vast potential.

If you ask me how many children I have, the short answer is one, the long answer is two and a half:  Harry, my almost nine year old cat, taught me how to love and care for someone, over and above my own daily needs.  Raphaela counts as the first human child, but my youngest brother showed me that the more you invest in a relationship, the more you both receive in return.   

Friday, December 17, 2010

Woman Plans, G-d Laughs

FRIDAY 17/12/10
What was supposed to happen:
Raphaela sleeps well, in her own bed
8:30 am Special session of photographs, rescheduled from Tuesday (Sick Day, RR)
9:15 am Drop Raphaela off at Gan
10-12 See Chiropractic patients
12 Pick up Raphaela from Gan
1:00 pm Facial, rescheduled from Tuesday (Sick Day, RR)
2:15 pm Drop off package at cousin's house
4:00 pm  Bring in Shabbat

What actually happened:
Raphaela does not sleep well, all night, in my bed
7:45 am  Raphaela eats breakfast
8:30 am  Special session of photographs
9:00 am  Arrive at Gan, Raphaela has fallen asleep in the car
9:10 am  Raphaela throws up this morning's breakfast, and part of last night's dinner (very graphic!)
9:30 am  After some debate, Raphaela and I leave Gan and return home, whereupon she falls asleep in bed
10 am     Cancel patients, wait to see if she will be happy enough to allow me to get a facial later
9:30-12   Raphaela in and out of sleep, with intermittent periods of dramatic moaning and nursing.  Indefinitely cancel facial appointment.
2:15 pm   Drop off package at cousin's house (quick visit!)
4:00 pm  Bring in Shabbat, hopefully with my sanity intact

For me, pushing aside my own needs again and again has been perhaps the hardest aspect of the experience of this week.  I don't mind at all taking care of Raphaela, but I also need to start taking care of myself, and this week has denied me that opportunity.  I can only pray (for so many reasons) that Raphaela get well over the weekend and is able to go to Gan continuously and regularly next week.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Children are our Future

With Raphaela ill today and at home, and the fridge in a desperate state, we went to the supermarket this afternoon.  While waiting at the check out line, a little Arab girl, slightly older than Raphaela, came over and spontaneously gave Raphaela a toy.

I have always maintained that the end of the Middle East Conflict lies in education reform for the youngest generation, on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides.  When the newest group of souls sees each other as people rather than life-long enemies, perhaps there is a chance for change and room for optimism.

With a Little Help from my Friends

Afer a tumultuous night, Raphaela woke up with a mild fever this morning, and an overall lousy disposition.  And so I kept her home from Gan, canceled my afternoon patients and plans, and am hoping that the rest she gets today will take care of this Virus of the Week. 

Just to have a backup plan, I am frantically phoning all the baby sitters on my list, because I have a full work load scheduled for tomorrow, and there is no way that I can work and watch Raphaela, should she need another "personal day."

This would be a good time to have grandparents who lived in the same country, but I may have to rely upon my friends.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Old Man Winter has Arrived

After an unusually warm November and Chanukah, Winter arrived two days ago, in the form of 100 km per hours winds, and this morning at 2:17 am, after a loud crack of thunder and lightning, the rains that Israel so desperately needs.

Yesterday, sensing that this deluge was upon us, I tried to rescue a pregnant cat that lives in my garden, give her a warm place to sleep at night, but I missed that window, she is too old to be taken in and even act partially domesticated.  The best I can hope is that she continue to come to my door, so I can feed her, and that she is sensible enough to find a warm and safe place to give birth to her kittens.

Taking Raphaela to Gan has become much more complicated as well, I dress her in heavy winter coats and can barely close the straps on the car seat.  I rush with her into the nursery room so she stays dry, and then must make another trip in the rain and the mud to get her supplies and her stroller.  I worry that Raphaela will get another cold, because of the changes in temperature from the outside to the inside.

I can't remember how I dealt with Raphaela in the Winter last year, of course she was much smaller and didn't do much.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Value of an Hour

Why is it that I pay my house cleaner 40 NIS per hour, and I pay my baby sitters 30 NIS per hour?  Surely my child is more valuable to me than my material posessions?!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Lesson of Chanukah

Today I learned a very important lesson: do NOT go to the zoo when much of the country and their children have vacation due to a holiday, notably Chanukah, Pessach and Succot.

Raphaela got out of Gan today at one pm, and I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice to use our new membership to the zoo and spend a lovely afternoon in the (crazy, uncharacteristic...) sunny December weather?" We had to park in the valley/construction site across the way, and I carried my child, our snacks, my bag and the stroller across a sketchy bridge to get to the main entrance.  Even with the wide lanes and vast spaces, it was difficult to impossible to maneuver Raphaela's stroller, or to get a decent look of the animals at the viewing windows.  I wanted to see the lion and other animals that we had missed on our last visit, but I got lost in the sea of families.

Most disturbing to me was the behaviour of the Ultra-Orthodox families in attendance;  they pushed their way through, or blocked entrance to many of the exhibits. They left litter on the grass after picnicing.  And I heard the following sentence come out of the mouth of a group of 18-year old Yeshiva students:  "Let's throw rocks at the animals, so they will do something interesting...(amused laughter and gathering of stones follow)"  

This is the second time in several years that I have heard that phrase come out of the mouth of a person who claims to be religious, and the hypocrisy disgusts me; wear the right clothing, get married and have lots of children, and it's OK to mistreat other humans who are below you, and other living creatures.

I am hoping that I provide a consistent and moral example to Raphaela in my own actions, so she understands that the relationships among G-d, Man, Beasts and Gaea demand mutual respect

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Final Step, Acceptance

This morning I was sitting at my favorite bakery, having a Chanukah doughnut, when a former patient of mine passed by, on his bike.  I called out to him and he did not recognize me, saying "My G-d you lost so much weight, are you healthy?"  It makes me wonder, having received this comment lots in the last several months, (a) was I so obese before hand and (b) do I look so thin that people suspect I am ill?  I am not dieting, in fact I feel that I eat more junk food than healthy meals, and perhaps, because I still nurse Raphaela twice a day, that has contributed to my continuing weight loss.

Here I am, with a 14-month old girl, and at my lowest weight since high school, enjoying my body and enjoying being a mother.  I have mentioned previously in this blog that I hold onto the idea of having another child, but only with a husband and a dependable support system.  I have also started to accept that I may only be mother to Raphaela, and not only can I live with that reality, but the role of Raphaela's mother gives me joy every day, and I embrace those feelings. 

I have taken a major step toward accepting the job the Universe has set for me:  from the start of my pregnancy and until now, I had a painting hanging above my bed which symbolized the beauty and mystery of pregnancy and birth, a piece which I had done several years ago in an art class here in Jerusalem.  This week I removed that painting and replaced it with a colorful, fun and whimsical poster, one which Raphaela enjoys looking at as much as I; and one which represents the potential for growth and the fulfillment of dreams for myself and my daughter.

Raphaela is in fact growing up so quickly, her Gan sent her home with a menorah that she made herself, and it moved me to tears. (I double checked with the nursery teacher that an adult had not helped her significantly, LOL)  My baby is coloring, and testing the limits of my discipline, and making arts-and-crafts projects in school.  What better gift could I receive on Chanukah?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's Not Over Yet...

I received an email from my parents this morning, with the following increadible story:  they boarded their plane in Israel at midnight on Sunday night.  At some point early in the flight a man sitting in First Class complained of feeling ill, and subsequently died, on the plane.  The plane landed in Frankfurt, Germany, so that the incident of the man's death could be investigated;  the other (alive) passengers had to leave the plane, reclaim their luggage and rebook their flight.  My parents were then supposed to have a 12-hour delay in Germany, but the tarmac had to be de-iced.  By the time they worked out the ice problem, the pilot and crew were not allowed to fly because it had gone into overtime, and negotiations ensued with the International Pilots' Union.

Last I heard from my mother, they were still stuck in Germany, two days after they were meant to arrive in Boston.

That seems like a lifetime ago, that they visited us in Israel.  Tonight, when I took Raphaela to her swim class, I half expected to see my parents to sitting on the side and watching.  When I picked up Raphaela from Gan, I was bursting with pride because my daughter produced her first crayon scribblings, and I wanted to bring her artwork over to my parents to show-and-tell.  I regret that it took Raphaela two weeks to warm up to her grandparents, and then they left.

I do hope my parents recover from the supposed convenience of international travel, and arrive home safely and swiftly.

Today I did something extraordinary, for literally the first time since Raphaela's birth:  in the afternoon, while she was still at Gan, I received a full-body massage for an hour and a half.  I did not use that time to work, but rather to treat myself nicely, and to relax without feeling like I should be helping someone else, or planning for Raphaela.  If I can now figure out how to return to my running and exercise regimen, all the better.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Moving On

My parents left for the airport at eight pm last night, after we spent essentially the whole day together.  Other than several small moments of verbal tension, I acted like I had no issues with them or their actions toward me, and I tried as best as I could to give Raphaela time with her grandparents.  We went to the zoo in the afternoon, and between the fact that Raphaela loves animals, and that we were both healthy again, she warmed up to my parents, showing them that if they had invested a little more time, it would be a lot of fun to play with her and get to know her.

In a desperate act of dependence, I forcefully told my parents that I thought it would be nice if we had dinner together, as their flight left at midnight, and was rebuffed, but at least I gave myself a place of vulnerability.

My mother called from the airport while they were waiting to board the plane, and reflected that she felt they had not spent enough time with Raphaela; maybe next time they will realign their plans and priorities to focus more upon family.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Repeating History

When Raphaela was less than two weeks old, and my parents had come in from Boston ostensibly to meet her, and to spend Succot with both of us, the following event took place:  my upstairs neighbor and friend recognized that I could not cook and entertain, and invited the four of us (myself, the baby, my parents) for Shabbat dinner.  I was actively nursing at the time, almost every two hours, as well as trying to understand the needs and schedule of this being that was my newborn daughter. 

We were all sitting at the table when Raphaela started crying, and I asked my friend if I could take the baby to one of the bedrooms;  she herself was breast feeding her son at the time and has a bit of the 'granola' in her, so I knew she would not mind.  But before my friend could respond, my mother said (to her 41 year old daughter), "Just give the baby a bottle and sit at the table. It's more important for you to eat something than to nurse Raphaela."  And before I could respond and say, "I am not giving my baby a bottle when I am perfectly capable of nursing," my mother grabbed my child from me and stuck a formula bottle in her mouth.

At my first possible chance, I mumbled apologies, took Raphaela downstairs with tears streaming from my eyes; embarassed that I had been treated like a stupid child, and angry at myself for allowing my mother to dictate how I would take care of my new baby.

Here we are, 14 months later, and this weekend did not fare much better.  I have a policy that I do not go out for Friday night dinner, because Raphaela regularly has a melt-down and I try to disrupt her sleep patterns as little as possible.  I know that if I go to someone else's house on a Friday night, I will spend the whole time feeding Raphaela and/or trying to keep her quiet as she starts squirming and crying and throwing food on the floor, because she needs to be in bed.  I put that policy aside, because my parents had arranged a meal for all four of us at people they know, and lo and behold, I had to leave the meal right after the challah because Raphaela was rubbing her eyes and crying and fidgeting.  As I left the house of these relative strangers, I heard myself apologizng to the hosts, and to my parents, because Raphaela had not 'performed' well.  On the way home, somehow Raphaela managed to drop her hat and her blanket, and in my fury and in between my tears, I did not notice until it was too late, until I got home.

Then today, after spending the morning in the house with just Raphaela, we arrived at another house of my parents' friends for Shabbat lunch.  Raphaela got loud fairly quickly, perhaps sensing my left-over hostility, or perhaps because she is a baby who has every right not to behave perfectly in a strange house.  My mother started with, "Last night Raphaela was too tired to do anything, I can't believe she is doing it again today."  My father was busy entertaining the teenage son of his brother, an Ultra-Orthodox cousin whom they invited along for the day, as I am apparently less crucial at this stage.  Raphaela managed to nap for an hour in a pack-and-play, but we left hastily soon after she woke up, as she was tired of being restricted to a small corner of a small apartment, being expected to be cute.

I kept hoping my parents would drop by in the afternoon, to spend more time with Raphaela, but last I spoke to my mother after Shabbat ended, their nephew was still hanging out with them, watching a soccer game with my father.  That sounds important, considering my parents leave tomorrow night on the midnight flight.

It's not about me really, I know that I am secondary to the Princess.  I had wanted my parents to connect to Raphaela on this two-week trip, and I had wanted Raphaela to feel like part of a larger family unit.  I couldn't control the timing of my illness of the first week.

 I am more grateful than ever for the loving adopted family I have in Israel, chosen family rather than blood.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"That" Relative

Now, I appeal to my faithful blog readers for advice.

My mother is trying very hard to be affectionate to Raphaela, and to connect to her.  I am thrilled beyond words.  Unfortunately, her method makes me cringe.  She comes up to Raphaela, pinches her cheeks very hard until they turn red, squeals in baby language for a bit and then takes Raphaela's cute little head into a pincer grasp, and kisses her almost violently; meanwhile, Raphaela, who does not have the verbal accuity to say "Stop," starts squirming and crying, but my mother ignores the obvious signs of discomfort and makes her grip even stronger.  It is even more scary when my mother does this when Raphaela is tucked into bed, I almost fear that my mother is so busy planting these Polish kisses on Raphaela that she does not realize that she is crushing my daughter with her body weight.

We all have "that" relative who we dreaded seeing on holidays and family functions, the one who gave wet and uncomfortable kisses, and hugged just a little too hard and a little too long until you felt like you couldn't breathe.   I had an elderly relative whom we all called the "Kissing Monster," and out of 'respect' we let him slobber on us and choke us, but none of the grandchildren enjoyed it.

I don't want my mother to become that relative.

And yet, I feel like there is no way to explain through kind words that Raphaela squirms and cries because she is unhappy and uncomfortable.  I don't know how to let my mother know that I love that they are beginning to bond, but as her mother, I must speak the words Raphaela cannot.

Any suggestions?

Thanksgiving Blues

Before I start complaining, I want to stress that on this Thanksgiving Day I am VERY thankful for my beautiful daughter and the joy she has brought into my life. I am thankful for my general state of happiness and satisfaction, and for my underlying faith that all things work out in the end, the way G-d intended for us.

That being said,  I must say that when my parents told me their travel dates, I got so excited that for the first time in the 13 years since I have made aliyah, we would be able to celebrate a true Thanksgiving Day together.  I started planning invitations and menus, and tried to figure out where to get an authentic pumpkin pie.  I also took off the afternoon from work to be sure that I could spend extra time with my parents.

Well, my parents had planned on visiting Tel Aviv yesterday, and pushed that trip to today instead, so Raphaela and I spent the afternoon - just the two of us, as we normally do on a Thursday - doing pre-Shabbat errands and enjoying the unseasonably warm and sunny November weather. As far as even having dinner tonight with my parents? That will not take place because my Ultra-Orthodox relatives decided at the somewhat last minute to have a memorial dinner for my uncle who died of ALS two years ago.  And since the dead seem to take precedent over the living (though I wouldn't say that sentence out loud to anyone) Raphaela has been fed and bathed, and I am making a simple dinner of salmon for myself.

I will not have seen my parents at all today.

You might say, why don't you go with your parents to this family gathering in honor of your dead uncle, that way at least you spend time with your relatives on Thanksgiving?  First, this wake of sorts only begins at eight pm, and I don't have the physical strength to stay awake and travel to the event;  nor do I want to interfere with Raphaela's sleep schedule, as I don't want her to be a basket case for her Chanukah party at Gan tomorrow.  Second, and more personal, these relatives have lived in Israel at least for as long as I have, and they have never made me feel welcome in their homes, because I do not pass their religious mustard.  In fact, only one of these cousins of my father even called me after I gave birth to wish me a mazal tov, the rest pretend like my daughter and I don't exist.  I cannot get all dressed up like a Chareidi and smile fake smiles, and pretend that we enjoy each other's company.

I cherish the memories of the Thanksgiving weekends spent with the whole family at my grandmother's house, and I will not ruin those experiences with a poor and depressing substitute.

So here I am, on Thanksgiving, sad and alternatively angry.  Hey, wait a minute, most people go insane being around their family on major holiday weekends, so maybe I am actually celebrating Thanksgiving in the truest way...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Parents' Visit, So Far

My parents arrived last Thursday night, only two days after I had lost my voice.  Both Raphaela and I had been exchanging viruses until yesterday, when Raphaela got better and my symptoms switched from my throat, to my stomach, plus that annoying echo in my left ear.

We were both too ill to eat with my parents on Friday night, but spent most of the day with them on Shabbat.  My parents came over to my house in the afternoon on Sunday to play with Raphaela for a few hours, and yesterday were out of town, and arrived back in Jerusalem after Raphaela had already fallen asleep.

Several times, we have started variations of the discussion of "why did you visit" or "why would you make aliyah" (ie to retire or to be closer to family), and I point out that they need to set priorities, in terms of the way they think about their time here.  Are they on vacation? Well, that would explain all these friends they are visiting all over the country.  Are they here to spend time with Raphaela?  I would hope so, and they say it is true, but it has yet to happen in a substantial way, and what is worse, my mother shows signs of impatience;  Raphaela is not warming up to them as quickly as my mother would like. I keep explaining they are vitural strangers to Raphaela, and once she realizes that they are cool and willing to accept her pace, I think the transition will be much smoother.

Raphaela has also started throwing more tantrums in the last week, and I don't know if I can attribute this trend to my parents, my being ill, or her stranger anxiety issues.  What I do notice is that when my father speaks to Raphaela, he gets all goofy and smiles and crawls on the floor to be at her level; my mother sits above her and tends to use negative tones and phrasing, like (outloud) "She's looking at me and thinking 'What does this strange woman want from me?'"   I made a gentle suggestion, once, to my mother, that she try to be more playful and less severe around Raphaela, and I got a scowl and a mini-lecture about how she has raised five children, and has eleven grandchildren.

So the report card thus far is a B minus, with credit given toward effort to complement Raphaela at various occasions.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Silent Communication

Since last Tuesday, I have lost my voice.  I have spent much of the day and night fighting this feeling in my throat that a mucous monster has settled permanently on my vocal cords.  I am taking Vitamins, and conventional medicine, to try to combat this virus.

When I went to the doctor last week, in despair that a simple hoarse thoat was turning into headaches, tinnitus and fatigue, she gayly informed me that I had picked up one of Raphaela's viruses from Gan, and that as long as we were sharing germs, I would be sick on and off for the next year.  Great...

As a result, I have not been able to sing or read books or speak to Raphaela as I normally do, and very often I communicate with my daughter with and exhagerated version of baby sign language.  Turns out you can say a lot without speaking any words at all, but I hate being ill, and I hate the idea that I cannot function as a normal human being, never mind as the parent of a 14 month old.

Today I am going to take Raphaela to Gan (where she can pick up another random virus, I am sure) and then come home, cancel all my patients for the day, and stay in bed.  I can't stop working indefinitely, and I must take care of myself in order to take care of Raphaela, and my Chiropractic clients, and my parents who are visiting us in Israel for next week and a half.

It would be a shame if my parents came all this way from Boston, and we could not spend any time with them.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Return of an Old Friend

Warning:  Girlie Material Follows

Indeed, I started spotting yesterday, with a full-fledged period today.  First time in 23 months since the pregnancy and birth, and I suppose I should be rejoicing, because it is a positive aspect of the larger fertility picture.  It means that I could have another child, should I make that choice.  And it means that I can continue nursing, for as long as my milk supply lasts.

On the other hand, my body is freaking out from the sudden influx of hormones, I had great difficulty sleeping last night, and I hate the feeling of wearing female instruments of torture that feel like a diaper, though it connects me in a physical way to Raphaela's life experience.

Over-Scheduling Raphaela

Since Raphaela started Gan in October, I have left her there for a full day (until four pm) only two days per week, and the rest of the week I pick her up after lunch.  Today I arrived around one pm, and the head of the nursery asked me if I would like to switch the days around so that Raphaela could stay later on Tuesdays, when they import a Music performer for the children.  I would want to give her access to music lessons in any case, and it would make it a lot easier for sure if Raphaela could stay in a place she already loves.  The head of the nursery also mentioned that they are planning on bringing in some soft and tame animals - bunnies and chicks and gerbils and such - on certain afternoons as well.

So I left Raphaela there, and since I had not scheduled patients for this afternoon, puttered around the house, and started thinking.  I realized that if I simply pay the Gan for one more long day, that means that I am essentially spending 15 NIS extra per week, and Raphaela will receive some music, and they will feed her an afternoon snack as well.

However, I am concerned that I am overscheduling and overstimulating my daughter, as we have our regular swim lessons on Tuesday evenings.  Is it too much to attend nursery from 7:30 am through 4 pm, including the music lesson, and then swim that same day? I can't believe she is not yet one and a half years old, and this has already become an issue.

I always thought that I would be a more mature and evolved parent than those who start the process at a younger age.  If Raphaela wants some extra attention and wants to stay home every once in a while, I am very cool with her taking a so-called Personal Day.  I want to expose her to creative pursuits or sport classes, but not overwhelm her with demands on her time and skills.  I want Raphaela to feel that sometimes it's OK to simply sit on the floor in the living room with her Mommy and play.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dream Interpretation

I slept very badly last night, due to a continuing nightmare of the existential variety.  Every time I would wake myself up, I thought that once I fell back asleep, my dream state would move onto a different topic, but alas, no.  I tossed and turned until four am, when I gave up on the idea of rest.

The dream involved a loss of Passion, it seemed that people, the planet, the Universe itself had given up.  As the dream progressed, rivers dried up, words got erased;  when I touched a tree or a book or even another human being, they immediately turned to dust.  I spent all night watching the world as I know it and imagine it, disappear and die.

When I finally got out of bed this morning, I found that I had lost my voice.  Of course, that could be attributed to the virus of the week that Raphaela may have brought home from Gan, or it could be a physical manifestation of the pain and loss I felt during this nightmare.

A friend of mine has suggested that the dreaming will get more and more intense as my parents' visit comes closer, and that the images represent my fear of getting sucked into my parents' needs and expectations.  My friend even hinted that I do not want to share Raphaela with her grandparents.

I say, let them spend time with her and let them babysit.  And then I can take a nap.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reconsidering the Shouting Option

This morning, Raphaela felt fine and was behaving normally.   Around 10:30 am, her nursery called me, saying that she had been crying for the last hour, had refused to sleep and did not want to be held;  they tried her teething gel but nothing was helping.

I canceled the rest of my work day and rushed over, and took her home.  She cried for the better part of the afternoon, until I gave her some Children's Tylenol, at which point she took a two hour nap.  Meanwhile, I was trying desperately to reach her pediatrician, and considering taking Raphaela to the emergency room.  Her doctor finally returned my phone calls, and set up an appointment for six pm.

Having come to the conclusion that Raphaela was suffering from a combination of severe teething and conjuctivitis, he prescribed some anti-biotic drops for her eyes, and instructed me to leave her at home for the next few days.  And so I canceled tomorrow's Chiropractic patients.

On the way home from the doctor, I drove to the pharmacy in order to fill the prescription, only to be told that they didn't have it in stock, and that maybe I should just drive around the city, from pharmacy to pharmacy, until I found one branch that could fill my order.

I lost it.

I started shouting, "Here I am, seven o'clock at night, a single parent with a clearly ill child, and you are telling me that the only way I can take care of my daughter is to drive around Jerusalem all night in search of eye drops?  Because you're out of stock of anything that resembles this prescription?"  And more yelling in that vein.

Finally, after being unable to reach the pediatrician who not ten minutes before had been in his office, I called his partner, at home, so that she could authorize a change in the prescription, feeling terribly guilty for disturbing her and feeling like I overstepped professional boundaries. 

But I got the prescription, along with a huge and negative surge of adrenaline that will likely keep me awake tonight.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Good Cop Bad Cop

My friend Olga is getting more and more frustrated with the pool where our girls have their weekly swim lesson.  Olga says that Teddy Stadium has cheaper lessons with nicer dressing rooms, and a Gymboree set up for the children as well.

Mika, Olga and Gregor's daughter, and Raphaela have been taking swimming lessons together since they were six months old.  I will admit that the women's dressing room scares me in its lack of space and cleanliness, but I don't spend too much time in there.  Our instructor is wonderful, however, and the place of instruction is right down the block from our apartment, and so I am willing to suffer a little.

Less so last night, when they did not have sufficient heating once we got out of the pool.  Raphaela was shuddering until I got her dressed, and so I went into the office there to complain. I pointed out, in a calm manner, that even though Israeli weather has not realized that it is in fact Winter, it gets cold at night and the pool and dressing rooms area are not heated to accomodate babies.

The man was listening to me, when Olga barged in, saying that they were going to lose their clients to Teddy unless they did something drastic to "come our way," and then she issued her list of demands.

I don't honestly know if her presentation made the general manager more or less willing to help, I am told that in order to get something done in Israel you have to shout and bully and run the other person over with a steam roller.

Perhaps I am still a naive American, 13 years after moving to Israel, but I would like to think that you can reason with another human being, if the request makes sense.

Vermont Teddy Bear

OK, so I know that there are so many things that Raphaela truly needs in life, and another stuffed animal is not one of them. But this bear is absolutely adorable, and it is taking all my strength not to give in and order this for her.

Sneak Preview: NEW Hoodie-Footie Bear

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Separate Lives

Sometimes, Raphaela does something fun and magical, and I want to tell someone else about it.  Sometimes I need to talk to another adult, as a sounding board.  Today I wanted to talk about the parking ticket I received (grrr) and Raphaela's teething.

I'm not married and not in a relationship, and so, more often than not, I call my parents.  Wow, that makes me feel so lame.  42 years old, living in another country, and I can't think of anyone besides my parents who would appreciate me or my daughter.

My father always forgets his cell phone, and so he is most often unreachable, or with patients at work.  90% of the time, my mother is off to do some good deed in her community:  praying for a sick person, taking someone to chemotherapy, teaching a class, doing a night shift at the mikva, preparing and sitting with a dead body before the funeral, making my father breakfast...When I see the words in front of me, I think, "My goodness, my mother is a saint, always taking care of others and never asking for anything in return.  Thank G-d she leads a fulfilling life, full of compassion for others."

Except that I resent it.  For the past 42 years, service to the Jewish community has competed with time spent focusing on family, and the community usually wins.  This is the paradign my grandmother established, and passed onto my mother.  We always had to behave well because it reflected on my parents to the outside world, and not for the sake of learning responsibility and good behaviour, for its own merit.  When we were young, almost every Shabbat meal, my mother invited friends and very often strangers who needed a place to eat; to this day, I have a hard time entertaining a large group of guests, I don't like how it makes me feel.

I am getting tired of hearing, "Can't talk, very busy" when I call Boston.  The seven hour time difference doesn't cut it as an excuse anymore.  I don't think my parents realize how hard it is sometimes to be a single mother, with no consistent support system.  I don't think they realize how important it is for me to hear a friendly and supportive voice on the other end of the phone.

Maybe the situation will improve when they come to visit Israel in two weeks, and spend some time with their granddaughter. Or maybe I should not have any expectations.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Perils of Tall Children

When I first met with Rut at the Sperm Bank, she counselled me against choosing a tall donor.  She warned me that two taller than average parents could produce a very tall girl, who would have social and self-esteem issues over and above the "usual" issues expected for a child from a non-traditional home.

According to what I have been told, Raphaela's anonymous donor and biological father measures approximately four inches taller than me;  according to her last physical and check-up, Raphaela stands in the 75th percentile in height.  I agree with their assesment, especially when I see her tower over some of the older kids in her nursery.

It took me many years and lots of positive feedback before I could enjoy my height, rather than feel awkward inside my own body.  Today, I had the opportunity to pass on that experience to one of my young patients.

A woman (who herself is quite large in both height and girth) brought her 12-year old daughter [R] to me for a consultation and Chiropractic treatment; she had gotten injured in a football game.  I have known R since she was three years old.

When R walked into the room, the first comment that came out of my mouth was, "Wow, you have gotten so tall."  At which point R cringed and sunk into terrible posture, she did not enjoy hearing that she looks more like a 16 or 17 year old..

I gave R the pep talk I had heard so many times during my childhood:  "Don't you know that supermodels have to be at least 5'10"?"  "Tall people radiate more power and are chosen for more leadership positions." "Why slouch so you can be the height of all those short people, when they could be looking up to you?"

The response I received could have been coming out of my own mouth, when I was her age:  "I always have to stand at the back when they take group photos."  "I can never find pretty shoes or dresses like the other girls wear."  "I'm not tall, I am fat.""It stinks to be tall."

Hearing R complain, I realized also that when a person looks older than she really is, other tend to assume maturity and the acquisition of certain skills that may not be present.  I remember when I stopped enjoying hearing that I looked older than my chronological age, that I looked "mature" and "responsible." I wanted to be young and cute like the other girls in my class, like the women you see in magazines.

I hope that my acceptance of my body and that my words helped R, even in some small way.

More importantly, this encounter today opened my eyes in terms of possible implications with Raphaela as she gets older and taller.   I hope that she continues to grow up happy and self-assured, and not at all ashamed of who she is and how she looks .  If Raphaela experiences a crisis and needs to talk to me, I hope she will know that I will always be here for her, and will give her love and support.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Perfect De-Stressor

This afternoon, I went to pick up Raphaela from nursery.  Today was a short day, Raphaela finished at one pm instead of four, and I felt tense after having sat in traffic because of a car accident near the house.  I hate arriving late or making people wait.

I walked in, many of the children were sleeping, and Raphaela sat on the opposite side of the room, quietly playing with zoo animals.  She saw me and crawled over at lightning speed, smiling and laughing all the way.   Her nursery teachers and some of the other staff watched and the whole room brightened, the joy of moment was contagious.

I can't think of a better way to dissolve my stress and improve the rest of the day.   And I will admit that it makes me happy as a parent to see her so well adjusted in nursery, and yet so happy to see me when I arrive.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Last Bag

Today I defrosted the last bag of breast milk, marking the end of my back-up supply.  The Avent pump has been useless for over one month now.

As it should be, people will tell me.  She eats solid foods and is out of the house for much of the day at nursery.  Breast milk responds to demand, and Raphaela has clearly demanded less.  My daughter is growing up and appropriately, that which satisfied her as an infant applies less and less.

From now on, Raphaela will get whatever my body can give her, I still nurse in the morning and at night because I enjoy that time together.  Raphaela will switch back and forth between the left and right sides, as if somehow each breast provides a different flavour.  I find it amusing when she pulls my shirt to let me know that she wants to snack, though her clever communication is less desirable when it takes place at the post office or the bank.

Let's see how much longer this continues, her third tooth started to errupt this weekend...

Friday, October 29, 2010


This blog is about motherhood, and so I dedicate this space today to RivkA Matitya, who I met as Karin Zuckerman, during my undergraduate years at Barnard College.

Yesterday RivkA lost her battle to cancer, I found out right before Shabbat started, and she will be buried at ten pm tonight in Jerusalem, Israel, where she lived with her husband Moshe and where she raised her children.

At Barnard and Columbia, before the size of the Jewish community grew to overwhelming and impersonal proportions, students of all class years who ate in the Kosher Cafeteria and prayed at Earl Hall on Friday night knew each other and befriended one another. I then reconnected with RivkA when I made aliyah 13 years ago.

I am grateful for the warm and unconditional support RivkA gave me during my pregnancy as a single mother, and for the guidance I received from her regarding nursing and parenting. Even throughout her five year battle with cancer, she always put her family first, and her story and force of personality continues to inspire.

She faced her illness with courage and nobility until the very end, including rather than shutting out the people around her, and the legacy she leaves behind is one of strength and joy.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Self, My Work

When Raphaela started nursery at the beginning of October, I expanded my available office hours. After all, if she were settled in and playing before eight in the morning, there was every reason for me to add early morning appointment times.

The first two weeks of this month, every spot of every day filled up, and though a part of me complained about feeling burnt out, it excited me to have that high energy and inertia. I interact with real people, adults, in my Chiropractic clinic, and it keeps me sane when I spend the rest of the day relating to a one year old girl. Plus, it pays the bills.

Last week slowed down a little, but balanced out by the end of the week.

This week feels dead in the water. I have so much free time on my hands, so many hours where I am speaking to myself, or to the walls. Rationally, I know that every month has cycles, and this could just be a slow week. As a single mother and as a woman who is usually so busy that I lose track of all my projects, I am starting to get concerned about my practice and my bank account.

I realize that I need my work on a deep level, to connect me to the greater community that exists outside of me and Raphaela. I get satisfaction from helping people optimize their life and their health, knowing that my time with patients is a small part of my larger role as a mother.

It wouldn't be such a bad thing if I had some adult company and physical intimacy as well, I do miss that more than I am willing to admit. My day-to-day existence has become quite unbalanced, and that cannot evolve into something healthy for me, or for my daughter.

On the positive side, Harry and Raphaela's relationship has taken a wonderful turn, Harry chose to watch Raphaela sleep last night, rather than spending time with me. When Raphaela - with the best of intentions I am sure - tries to pet him, and instead pulls out his fur or suddenly pounces on him with her full weight, he sits there and takes it. Sometimes he even purrs while she treats him like one of her stuffed toys. My two children are getting along.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Incident, The Day After

I had a very hard time taking Raphaela to Gan this morning, just thinking about yesterday made me sad and angry.

The staff rallied around Raphaela, and assured me that they would do everything in their power today to give her a positive social experience, so she wouldn't be scarred by "Adam's." I realize that Raphaela and I must get back onto the proverbial horse, and put this behind us. ( I survived almost being killed by a Palestinian sniper, I think I can get past this as well.)

Sub-consciously, I left Raphaela's stroller- the scene of yesterday's traumatic event- at home.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Don't panic, everything is OK."

Funny how that sentence tells you that in fact there is every reason to panic, and that everything is most definitely not OK.

(It reminds me of the time in high school, during the construction of the new building. In the middle of class, the principal got on the loud speaker and said, in the most un-relaxed voice possible, "Don't panic, everything is OK. Please leave the school building quietly and quickly." Turns out there was a major gas leak and the next stray spark would have burned us all to a crisp.)

The head of Raphaela's nursery called me to tell me that I should not be shocked when I picked up my daughter today, that after 'the incident' she ate and played and slept as she normally does. The head of Raphaela's nursery assured me that there seemed to be no lasting emotional trauma. The head of Raphaela's nursery encouraged me, saying that at least his nails were not sharp, or it could have been much worse.

The Incident: One of the boys in the older group, let's call him Adam, came upon my sweet daughter sleeping. In a fit of uncontrollable rage, transference from his jealousy issues with his younger sister at home, he started clawing at Raphaela's face with purpose, violence and malice.

This boy, let's call him Adam, was immediately expelled from nursery, permanently. My daughter looks like she was mauled by wild dogs, or perhaps the comic anti-hero Wolverine.

Based upon the description of the event and Raphaela's face, I have no doubt in my mind that he will be cutting off heads of innocent animals in a few years, and will be in jail by the age of 20. How proud his parents must be, raising the next Ted Bundy.

I truly believe that children come into this world 100%, and it is we parents who can either help them achieve their potential, or ruin them before they get out of the starting gate.

When I got to the nursery and looked at her face, I started crying. Had they not intervened when they did, Raphaela might have needed surgery. ("It all happened in a moment..." they told me.) Several of the assistant teachers could not look me straight in the eye, and when they tried to speak to me, I could see the guilt, shock and horror in their face.

I am horrified that a child who is not even three years old could perpetuate such a violent act. I am angry as Hell at his parents, who have obviously dropped the ball here, though I don't know what occurs in their home. I am angry that my daughter was the victim of a disturbed child. I am angry at myself, thinking that somehow I could have protected her and prevented this.

I am less angry at the staff at the nursery, because they reacted appropriately to the situation, and gave Raphaela the proper medical care on site. I can't blame them for not watching a sleeping child when others were awake, or for not automatically considering the possibility of a demon in their midst.

The rational part of me knows that Raphaela will heal from this, and this boy is to be pitied. Raphaela's mother wants to hurt his parents as much as I am hurting right now.

When I was growing up, I knew a boy who was "born angry," he often tortured cats and bullied the other children on our block and at school. He had several set backs in his life, and rather than take responsibility for his choices, he hid behind his "lousy childhood" and ineffective parenting. He barely made it through college. I found out recently that as an adult, the pattern continues; he cheated on his soon to be ex-wife, and abuses his three children.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Catch and Release

As a photographer (and a blogger), I realize that once I show someone else my art, I no longer own it, in the sense that now the general public can and will react in their own way, and I have no control over the outcome.

Yesterday, Raphaela celebrated her first birthday in nursery. She sat on the special birthday chair and wore a crown with flowers; the children sang songs and played birthday games, and then we all ate some Black Forest cake. Clearly, from the look on her face and the mess on her clothing, Raphaela enjoyed herself.

What I enjoyed most was the fact that when her nursery teacher started the festivities by asking, "Whose birthday are we celebrating today?", all the kids shouted out, "Raphaela!" Other children know her name and play with her during the day, Raphaela has been released into the Greater Universe, and now others besides her Mommy can love and appreciate her who she is, and who she is becoming.

Raphaela is my greatest work of art, and I am more than happy to share her and watch her grow with each encounter with the world out there, as long as she keeps coming back to me for snuggles.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Curiosity of Children

Every morning for the last two weeks, I have taken Raphaela to nursery, and I have become accustomed to staying for about a half hour to sit in the corner while Raphaela plays, or I end up being surrounded by several children and I read them books. One little boy who has a crush on Raphaela always shows me his latest "boo-boos," and we discuss various ways that it will feel better soon.

This morning one of the older girls asked me why I "always" bring Raphaela in the morning. I answered that I am her Mommy, and I enjoy taking a walk in the morning and like to watch Raphaela play with her friends.

Then this girl quickly got to the point, and said, "Well what about her Daddy? Why doesn't he ever take her to nursery?"

I was not sure how to answer. Though I am quite sure that most children know someone whose parents are divorced, or who live in non-conventional situations, I was not prepared for the discussion.

I gave the lame answer that everyone has their jobs, and repeated that I enjoy the morning nursery ritual. Then this little girl told me all about how her father sometimes works nights and only comes home in the morning, as she is on her way out the door.

I need to figure out how to tell my story in the least complicated way, for myself and for Raphaela.

Photos for the Album

Last night I called one of my oldest friends from Chiropractic school, she lives in Minnesota with her husband and while we do speak on the phone every few months, we have not seen each other in person for almost 12 years.

The essence of this real and lasting friendship expresses itself when we speak after long stretches, and we can stay on the phone for hours and it feels as if no time has passed at all. At the end of the conversation, she asked me to send updated photos of Raphaela via email, and she would, in turn, send me the latest pictures of their garden and the house that they recently built.

They have been married for many years, and I know that they are trying to have children and have as yet been unsuccessful. I do know that she will make a great Mom. I tried to explain to her how becoming a mother changes your life and your priorities, but I don't think I was adequate.

I can't help but compare the content of our photo exchange, my album is filled with very few artistic images or scenery. I hope for my friend and her husband that they soon realize the blessing of parenthood, and may there be a little boy or girl playing in their carefully tended garden, and making a snow man in front of their new home.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rewriting the Books

Yesterday, while flipping channels, I came upon a Dr. Phil show which centered on the effects of a bad (read: neglectful and/or overbearing and/or abusive) father on their daughters, and the implications for these girls as they themselves start engaging men as adults.

I wonder if they will have to rewrite the psychology text books, to accommodate the next generation of children who will grow up with happy and loving mothers, the positive picture of a strong, accomplished and compassionate woman, and with no particular frame of reference of a central male role model in the home.

The question becomes: better a lousy father, or none at all?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Baby Linguistics

Given that Raphaela is now in the process of acquiring not one, but two languages equally well, I was intrigued by an article in today's New York Times by Nicholas Bakalar, entitled "Big Ears for Irony." Bakalar states that until the age of six, "younger children generally interpret rhetorical questions literally, deliberate exaggeration as a mistake and sarcasm as a lie."

I know that when I was pregnant and driving, I would often swear out loud and often, in response to the reckless drivers and dangerous conditions. I told myself that once the baby was born, I would have to seriously edit my mouth's output, because children hear and mimic everything.

These days I try to control myself in terms of my tone and my word usage, though sometimes I slip. When I feel utterly frustrated or exhausted, I will leave the room and have a primal scream before returning to taking care of Raphaela. I can only hope that Raphaela learns enough by positive example before she enters the Israeli school system, where I will have much less influence on her exposure to language and values.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Check Me Into the Nursing Home

Six months ago, after the birth, I had my eyes examined and loved the idea that pregnancy had actually improved my vision.

In the past few weeks, however, I have felt like my eyesight was not as sharp as it should be; today I finally hired a baby sitter to watch Raphaela while I went to the optometrist. After close to 20 minutes of subtle and comprehensive testing, the doctor gave me the diagnosis I had suspected and then denied to myself: I am old, that is to say, over the age of 40. I need reading glasses, over and above my contact lenses.

Boy, am I depressed. Here I am, the mother of a one year old, and I need reading glasses. My mother has reading glasses.

(Ironically, if a patient of mine had come into the office with the same complaints I experienced, I would have immediately told them that most humans between the age of 40-45 will need reading glasses. And I would have encouraged my patients that they don't look "old" and should not take it personally.)

Of course my new frames will be stylish and modern, because I accept this development with grace and fashion. But when I arrived home and Raphaela came rushing over to me, I said, "Come here to your aged mother. We have to pick out a nursing home that will allow children."

I laughed, my baby sitter laughed with me.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Learning Names

As I reflect on Raphaela's first week in Gan, I get excited when I think about all the dramatic changes in only six days: literally overnight, Raphaela started speaking Hebrew and doubled her basic vocabulary; she has become so active that she chases Harry around the house, and he runs away in fear; Raphaela scales any piece of furniture that is climbable, like Everest, because it is there.

Her sleeping patterns have not quite settled in as nicely, but that may be partially due to the arrival of her second tooth. This morning she woke up, ready to go, at 4:15 am, and this afternoon she fell/jumped out of the crib for the first time. I am not ready for her to move to a regular bed.

The one area of failure that I can identify regards my lack of ability to remember the names of most of the staff of the Gan, and most of the names of the other children. Every morning and every afternoon all the other parents seem to know everyone, and spend five minutes saying "Good morning" and "Good bye." Since Raphaela started one month after everyone else, I missed the meeting where all the children were introduced, and I feel outside the social circles of the parents. I feel I must rectify this cultural faux pas, sooner rather than later.

This afternoon at pick-up, I found Raphaela playing happily and covered from head to toe in chocolate cake. Apparently, in addition to the Shabbat party there had been a birthday celebration, and she had her first taste of my favorite addiction. The chocolate was stuck in her hair, covered her face and extremities, and even Bunny got a piece of the action. It was pure joy.

They sent Raphaela home with a small challah that the older children had baked for everyone, and my daughter treated this bread as the most precious gift she had ever received. She refused to give it up and when I tried to put it away for later, she started screaming "Challah, Challah." (With a lovely Israeli pronunciation of the letter "chet.") She then stuffed the entire roll into her mouth and slowly chewed it for the next half hour, while playing with blocks.

All this after one week in Gan, I can't wait to see what comes next. Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Little Gan Girl

Raphaela's nursery had requested that I set aside this whole week, that I be available even if I planned on working, to help my daughter acclimate to her new Gan. I scheduled patients, but in a limited way, because I have to work at some point to make up for the whole period of the holidays in September.

On Sunday I brought my newspaper and a good book, and sat in the corner while Raphaela explored her new surroundings. She did not cry at all, in comparison to the other children who had a hard time returning to a regular schedule after Succot. That evening, Raphaela was quite hyper and talkative after a fun and interesting day.

Yesterday I brought my book and stayed at the nursery with Raphaela for about two hours until 9:30 am. I showed Raphaela's child minders how to put her down for a nap, and was then sent home, where I worked with one eye on my cell phone,waiting for that call that I had to drop everything and take my daughter home. My cell phone remained quiet, and when I went to pick up Raphaela at 4 pm, she smiled at me and then crawled in the other direction, toward some toys. Again, yesterday evening, she was active and verbal, and already showed me some new moves, activities she must have tried out during the day at the gan.

This morning I stayed for only one hour, and left quietly while Raphaela was listening to story time. No news is great news, and I have not gotten any emergency calls.

I feel so proud of Raphaela for adapting so quickly, and for being one of the few children who did not cry during the last three days. It makes me reconsider my choice to take her out early on certain days, so we can spend time together. On the one hand, Raphaela is still only one year old, and I am lucky to have the flexibility of my profession to be able to spend the afternoon together. On the other hand, am I taking away certain social opportunities from Raphaela, in order to satisfy my needs?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

First Day of Nursery

Yesterday at my cousin's house, we celebrated Raphaela's first (English) birthday, with family and songs and chocolate cake.

Last night after Raphaela went to sleep, I gathered all her equipment for nursery school and labeled them with a permanent marker, as per the instructions from her new care takers.

We arrived at her nursery this morning, one of the first; I thought it might be hard to get out of the house by 7:30 am, but I was motivated to get her acclimated as easily as possible, and so we left the house on time. It took approximately another half hour before the room started to fill up, and as long as I sat in the corner within view, Raphaela was able to explore and play with the other children.

As a social child, I know that this exposure to a larger and more varied group will only benefit her and help her confidence grow, but as her parent, I found it difficult that my baby was one of many in a room, where she did not get the level of exclusive attention to which she has become accustomed. I was reminded to observe only, but there were several times that I wanted to jump out of my seat and say, "Hey, what about my kid? Why aren't you playing with her?"

It is well known that the parents make the situation much more stressful than the children themselves, and so I must concentrate my efforts in not getting in Raphaela's way. I admit that at one point, Raphaela crawled over to me and asked to nurse; I did so happily, feeling that I was still needed, and relieved that I could provide her with some comfort in a strange situation.

It was her first day, and she did not nap at all this morning because of the excitement, and the head teacher sent us home around eleven am, so Raphaela could take a nap in her own bed. I will, however, bring Bunny tomorrow, to add to her cubby shelf, so she can learn that naps happen in Gan as well.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy English Birthday

At 7:50 am this Saturday, October 2, marks the day that Raphaela officially becomes a one year old Toddler, according to both the Gregorian and Lunar calendars.

Thank G-d she has recovered from the one week of Hell that was Roseola Infantum, and has returned to herself in every way that I know her. Raphaela's appetite has returned as well, and at her swim lesson she went down the water slide by herself, swam under the water and emerged with a huge smile on her face. How I missed that personality, joy and energy for the one week that she was ill.

I find it comforting and wonderful that this year her English birthday falls on the same day as my grandmother's Yartzeit, the woman for whom Raphaela Rivka was named, the woman who made me feel so loved and so special, especially when the rest of my life seemed chaotic and scary at the time.

Happy birthday Raphaela, my angel and inspiration and joy.
Your Mommy loves you, inside and out.
Be who you are, and may you be blessed in all that you are, all the days of your very long life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dating Ambivalence

A friend of mine, the President of the confirmed bachelor club, recently announced his engagement to a woman he has known for almost nine years. Over the years, so many of us looked upon this relationship with confusion, wondering why this woman followed around this man who proclaimed that he would never be ready to commit. Her wait was apparently worthwhile.

I gushed for both of them; he was my back-up plan, years ago we had discussed being together if we got old and grey and remained single.

In honor of the holiday, I received an email that a well-known matchmaker would be in Jerusalem, and that she would be hosting a singles' function on Saturday night, Chol Hamoed Succot.

I am feeling surprisingly ambivalent about the concept of men, dating and marriage. I even found myself thinking today that somehow, I have lost my need for expressing my sexuality. I look at some people's husbands and married life, and think, "What's so great about that anyway? I am a happy person right now." After years of terrible dates, and with all the activity I have in my day-to-day existence as a full-time doctor and a full-time mother, I would have to decide to find the time and more important, open myself to the possibility.

That being said, I do love myself and know that I have a lot to offer. I want to feel loved as an adult, as a wife with my life partner, exclusive of my position as Raphaela's mother, but I am loathe to get involved with a man who may impact me or my daughter negatively.

Is it the fear of rejection that holds me back, or the fear of getting hurt, or more insidiously, the fear of actually snagging the good guy and feeling like I don't deserve it?

This past week at some point on Yom Kippur, perhaps induced by exhaustion combined with fasting, I looked at my body and felt ugly and out of shape. That counter-productive voice in my head started putting me down until I was able to dismiss it and banish those nasty thoughts.

I know many single mothers by choice, and most of them have in fact not married since the birth of their children, and I wish it bothered me more than it does.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Health Status Update

Raphaela's fever broke Wednesday morning, Erev Chag.
For the past three days, she has been ingesting nothing but Electrolyte Punch, and this morning she agreed to eat Cheerios and a few pieces of banana, and she asked to nurse.
And yet, her behaviour still does not resemble the Raphaela I had taken for granted, but after three exhausting days of illness, I do not blame her.

Thank G-d we are on the mend.

There will be a few habits to break after this whole affair wraps up, including the changes in the bedtime routine and regressive tendencies. She has gotten used to me holding her throughout the day, and falling asleep on my shoulder, rather than in her own bed. Last night, we lay down on the futon in her room, I played the disc for Peter and the Wolf and we both fell asleep together, her little head and curly hair resting on my chest.

I love that feeling, snuggling with her, and yet I know well enough that now she is one year old, and she will become more independent, and I welcome it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Happy Hebrew Birthday

At 7:50 am on Erev Succot, Raphaela was born one year ago today, at Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem.

Happy birthday my sweetest girl, the little person who has changed my life in ways that I could have never anticipated, and who has given me moments that I would not trade for anything in the world.

Predictably, disregarding for the moment that she has been ill this week, I am awake at two in the morning, checking emails and sterilizing bottles, so I can spend uninterrupted time with Raphaela later today, during normal daylight hours.

The End of Breast Feeding?

Given that I have not eaten properly in the last two days, and Raphaela has not had the inclination to eat or drink much of anything, never mind nurse, I am trying my hardest to activate the milk flow by pumping. I can't gage the success of this plan, as I was producing less milk in any case.

After a follow-up visit with the doctor this morning, he has decided that she is 60% improved, and I disagree. The Raphaela I know smiles and plays and loves eating; this little girl sleeps a lot, cries often, and has no interest in food or drink. She has barely cracked a smile in two days.

I want my Raphaela back.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Doctor's Visit

Picture the scene: Raphaela is hot to the touch and since noon has refused to eat or drink anything. We arrive at the doctor, and not only are all the seats in the waiting room taken, but four people stand outside.

When I tell the secretary that we have arrived for our emergency appointment, she looks at me and says, "Sweetheart, all these people are emergencies." She continues, "Maybe you should take the baby for a very long walk, it's not good for her to be in the waiting room, there are sick people here."

I start to cry.

Immediately the assembled waitees split into two groups, one consisting of Israelis who mean well and try to help, and the other who pull out all the stops and take the opportunity to make me feel like the Shittiest Parent of Century.

Helpful Israeli Group:
"Is everything OK?" (They asked the crying mother with the screaming baby...)
"Did you give her a bath?"
"Did you give her Children's Tylenol?"
"Maybe you should give her some water to drink."
"I can't believe the doctor did not take you right away!"

Unhelpful Israeli Group:
"She's been feverish since this morning and you are only coming to the doctor now?"
"Why didn't you take her to the emergency room?"
"Why didn't you bring her a bottle with water, or a baby bag?"
"My god, you are such a first time mother!"
"How could you let her diaper rash get that bad?"
"What, are you alone? Don't you have any help?" (They asked the crying single mother...)

Then Raphaela had the diarrhea to end it all, and the secretary, who until now had been less than sympathetic, stepped up her game with wonderful statements like:
"I can't believe she dirtied that chair, we just bought new ones."
"Well, no one will be able to sit on that chair anymore."
"Just put the baby in the stroller and clean up that mess, it stinks!"

Finally, after a wait of close to an hour, a woman gave up her appointment so that I could take Raphaela for her examination. The doctor checked her chest and her ears and told me that indeed my daughter is sick, but otherwise is in excellent health.

I laughed and cried at the same time, because clearly, Raphaela was not OK.

His biggest fear at the moment is dehydration, and has directed that I take Raphaela to the emergency room for an IV in the middle of the night, should I be so concerned.

My sweet daughter, no matter how uncomfortable she may have been, still said hello in her cat voice to Harry as we walked in the house.

Out with a Wimper

Raphaela's new nursery would only accept her when she officially became a one-year old, and so for September - whatever isn't Jewish holidays- we had returned to the care taker from last year. This caring woman was the perfect fit when Raphaela was a baby and didn't do much; I now remember several of my motivations for switching Raphaela's day care program for this coming year.

I give this care taker so much credit, two of her three children are special needs, and she manages her house and works in between providing all the basic needs of her family. But because she has children who require more, it limits the hours in which she can care for Raphaela, thus limiting the hours in which I can work and support my little family. In addition, this care taker always seems to have notifications of emergency meetings and doctor visits, and I can only snag a last-minute baby sitter 1/3 of the time.

Today, case in point, Raphaela woke up with a fever and was therefore not allowed to spend any time at the care taker. I get it, there is no reason to give other children a virus, if it can be avoided. Except that in my uneducated medical opinion, I think that all the symptoms she has been experiencing in the last 24 hours have to do with teething: diarrhea yesterday, low grade runny nose, difficulty sleeping last night and the fever this morning. You can't "catch" teething, last I checked it made a child unhappy, but was not contagious.

I didn't need the care taker chastising me for even thinking about taking Raphaela out of the house, and treating me as if I were a stupid child. New mother, yes, inconsiderate and stupid, no.

I certainly didn't criticize the care taker last week when one of her children left a pistachio shell on the floor, and Raphaela almost choked on it.

And so I canceled my whole work day, and we have a doctor's appointment this evening, where he will most like say to me, "Well, you know there's this virus going around," or "It could be allergies, or teething."

Honestly, this is the first time since Raphaela's birth that she is sick, for real, and it pains me to see her miserable, and I am terrified by this fever.

Good thing the care taker canceled her services for tomorrow altogether, as one of her children has a doctor's appointment. I want Raphaela close to home when she feels this way.

I do hope that her situation improves for Succot, with her one-year Hebrew birthday only two days away.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yom Kippur 2010

Two years ago, I observed Yom Kippur in protest. After almost one year of fertility treatments, I suffered a major miscarriage three days before the significant fast day. For three days I vomited and bled, knowing that I had not achieved the pregnancy I so desperately desired. When Yom Kippur itself arrived, I spent approximately five seconds address the heavens and said, "You know what I want," and then refused to enter a synagogue or open a prayer book. I did fast, because that superstitious part of my upbringing would not consider any other action, no matter how angry I might have been at the Greater Universe.

Last year, I fasted on Yom Kippur to try to convince my daughter that conditions outside the womb might be better than inside. The baby was pushing on my hips and coccyx, and the OB-GYN was threatening to induce labour, and so I abstained from eating and drinking. I spent the day alternatively talking to my stomach and talking to G-d, asking for the gift of love and kindness for this life I carried, for this soul I could not wait to meet in person.

Of course my strong-willed daughter ignored the obvious withholding of nutrients and arrived four days later, when she was ready, exactly nine months to the day she was conceived.

This year on Yom Kippur, I will be nursing Raphaela, in between negotiations for a solid and fruitful year for myself and my child. And I will be planning Raphaela's first birthday party.

May we all be inscribed onto G-d's "nice" list this year.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Taking Notes and Saying Thanks

Today I had the sad and unfortunate task of having to tell a patient that I suspected a diagnosis of mild autism in her daughter. This little girl, while physically active and possessing an obvious close bond with her mother, clearly tuned out most of the world around her. This little girl did not make eye contact with me, seemed to burst into crying and angry tantrums with no provocation. At the age of almost two years, this little girl refuses to walk, and does not play with the other children in nursery. The grandmother confirmed for me that she had always thought her grand daughter "didn't like her own family."

One of my nephews had been diagnosed several years ago with a mild form of autism which mostly expresses itself as a social disorder; though my nephew has a savant element as well, and is quite musically talented.

I recently heard from a religious single woman around my age, who made the JSMBC choice, and after many attempts, got pregnant. Based upon ultra-sound and other pre-natal exams, it appears that her fetus has a high probability of some mental or physical disability. It breaks my heart.

So much could have happened during my pregnancy with Raphaela, during her birth and in the last year. I look at Raphaela, and she is a happy, verbal and socially developed child; other than season allergies which she inherited from me, she is thank G-d healthy and developing ahead of schedule in many respects.

I thank G-d every day for the blessing that is my daughter, this little bundle of smiles and babbling and sharing Cheerios. I pray with everything I have and more, that in this season of High Holidays, when the Universe opens itself up to our thoughts, prayers, hopes, fears and requests, that G-d grant me and my child full health, and the resources for me to be able to continue to care for her and allow her every opportunity to make this world a better place.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Most Glorious Word in the World

Approximately five days ago, Raphaela started calling me "Mama."
Nothing in my life prepared me for how I would feel at that moment.

R"H, Day by Day

Rosh Hashana at Savta Shira's house, Day One:
Morning wake up, 5 am
Shul attendance, three hours, with some parallel play with another little girl. She sleeps through shofar
Nap time, Mommy, five hours total
Nap time, Raphaela, two and a half hours
Allergic situation, high tissue alert for Mommy and Raphaela
Bedtime for Raphaela, 8 pm

Day two:
Morning wake up 6 am
Shul attendance, three hours with some interactive play with same little girl, awake for shofar
Nap time, Mommy, four hours total
Nap time, Raphaela, three hours
Allergic situation, high tissue alert for Raphaela, medium for Mommy
Raphaela falls off the guest bed, but does not seem to suffer damage. (Mommy suffers guilt)
Bedtime for Raphaela, 7:30 pm

Day three:
Morning wake up 5 am
We both have diarrhea, and don't eat much all day.
Shul attendance, one hour, Raphaela and I leave because she's talking too loudly, and she takes home one of the toys without my noticing.
Nap time, Mommy, one hour total
Nap time, Raphaela, four hours
Allergic situation, medium alert for Raphaela, low grade for Mommy
Bedtime for Raphaela, 8 pm, in car back to Jerusalem

Sunday morning:
Morning wake-up at 4 am, who pays attention to the clocks changing...
On the good side, she learned this weekend how to make "nice" to Savta Shira's cat, and Harry will be quite relieved as his New Year begins.

Raphaela Rivka Danzig Leeder

Click here to view this photo book larger

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Genetic Memory or Baby Instinct

As a Chiropractor, I adjust Raphaela as necessary, trying to avoid the cliche of "The cobbler's children don't have shoes..." She enjoys the treatment, even laughs at certain points.

With the arrival (finally!) of her first tooth, she has been suffering lately from a runny nose and has been playing with her ears. I started to adjust her yesterday, and she grabbed my hand, placing it gently at various points on her head, neck and hips, directing me to the areas that required Chiropractic realignment.

She literally showed me the exact spots in her body that were out of balance, as if she had years of Chiropractic training.

I suppose it could be argued that as the daughter and granddaughter of Chiropractors, Raphaela has some genetic memory and heightened awareness of her physical state. Or it could be said that children are far more advanced and tuned in than we rational adults give them credit Either way, needless to say, I am amazed beyond words, at the miracle that is this small and wonderful life.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

That Four Letter Word


There I said it, and I bet as soon as you read that four letter word, you started scratching your head. Many years ago, when my hair was the longest and curliest it has ever been, I got a serious and gross case of L***, and it scarred me for life.

Last night, at the parents' meeting for Raphaela's nursery, the topic arose, and I realized that now I have to think about all the various diseases, large and small, that my child will bring back from the school yard. Until now she has enjoyed the small child care settings, which severely restricted her exposure, and that is about to change.

Emotionally, I feel ready for Raphaela to expand her social contacts and essential experiences. I am not and will never be ready for the L***. I wanted to run out in the middle of the gathering to the local drug store down the street, and buy every remedy both natural and toxic.

However, if I were to wish the plague of L*** upon anyone, it would be the mother of the child who stood up at the meeting last night and announced with disdain that she was "uncomfortable" and angry with the idea that "The Crawlers" - the youngest group in the nursery program, Raphaela being one of them - will set back the development of her own two year old, apparently a super-genius.

Don't all parents think that their child will save the world?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Goodbye Summer, Hello Gan

Picture the scene last Friday: mothers and fathers with babies, all around the same age as Raphaela. Balloons and a large picnic mat, with a kiddie pool on the side in the shade. Two full tables of summer food, and a chocolate birthday cake for Daniel. A nice way to close the first Summer of Raphaela's life.

Around 12:30 in the afternoon, all these babies with all their individual personalities and needs started kvetching and crying, as they all seem to be on the same nap schedule. You would almost think that these children conspired to have the simultaneous outburst and bring the birthday party to a close.

This week the chaos starts as far as child care. Since Raphaela's official nursery will only take her in October, when she turns one year old by both the Hebrew and English calendar, I now have to coordinate between three women. Elana, her care taker from last year, has graciously agreed to pick up most of the non-Jewish holiday hours during September. Hopefully Shira, her babysitter during July and August, and Michal, the newest 'staff member' will take care of the rest of the times I need.

I must work as often as the holidays allow, as at least half the month doesn't count, and my bank account doesn't care either way, as long as it stays full.

October remains slightly unbalanced, as Raphaela will initially have a staggered schedule, as she adapts to a new place, new toys, new kids and new care takers. I will still require my staff of sitters until Raphaela attends nursery full-time, as planned, without tears or separation anxiety.

In between all this, does anyone have a reliable house cleaner they can recommend? Not like my house qualifies as a disaster area, but I can't seem to hold onto anyone decent.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Party Planning

Tomorrow Raphaela and I will be attending the birthday party of her friend Daniel, who is exactly one month older and turning one. Inspired, I sat down and started a guest list for a party for Raphaela, though my parents need to forward me their travel itinerary, so I can time the event for their visit to Israel.

Amazingly, with inviting "essential personnel" only - Raphaela's friends and my family - I arrived at a list of over 40 people, half of that children. It seems that at the age of 11 months, Raphaela has more friends than her mother. Growing up, I was an introvert and hardly a member of the popular kids, and so I wish for my daughter that she always feel like the Belle of the Ball.

Raphaela also showcased a new skill today; when I sing the Hebrew version of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" (Yadayim Lemaala), she lifts her arms into the air and waves them around, with a big smile on her face. She can now recognize more and more words, and identifies her toys and household objects correctly. Funny how something so small could give me so much joy.

I can't wait for her to say "Mommy" for the first time.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Difficult Days

One of my aunts always tells me being sick represents the hardest part of being a mother, single or otherwise. As an unwell individual, you need to stay in bed and rest, and yet practically and logistically that becomes impossible; by default, you come last.

Today, Shabbat, I experienced a combination of (best guess) oppressive Jerusalem heat leading to exhaustion and dehydration, combined with some version of food poisoning. I spent much of the day running back and forth to the bathroom, trying to take care of Raphaela's needs in between, during the "good moments." And when I needed to rest, Raphaela would come nuzzling up to me, or she would crawl off into some corner of the kitchen and (no exaggeration) start ripping up tiles.

I had to prevent Raphaela from getting hurt, of course, though I could barely move without feeling nausea, or a shooting pain in my intestines, or the spreading numbness in my hands. She finally fell asleep around seven pm, at which point I took a cold shower, simply to feel semi-human.

Today was difficult in itself, and it also reminded me of the less fun aspects of Raphaela's pregnancy: the first four months of nausea, unable to even think about most foods without vomiting. The next three months of intermittent constipation and sleeplessness. The last three months of constant muscle aches because a certain someone fetus was pressing on my back. Labour without an epidural.

Yes, Raphaela is worth all of that, but I question my ability to try for a second in the future, on my own. I don't know if I could go through the fertility treatments and the hormone shots and the pregnancy, while taking care of an active and growing child.

Then again, today she started giving me (and every stuffed animal in the vicinity) kisses; with such amazing loving energy coming from my first attempt, how could I not think about another?

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Smallest Things

As adults, we have a skill set and we have long since forgotten that we had to learn and practice the most basic aspects of life that we take for granted.

Yesterday, while in the kiddie pool, I asked Raphaela to pick out her rubber duck from the 20 or so scattered objects. I watched her as she scanned each toy in the water, and then she picked up the duck and handed it to me. I felt proud and amazed.

When we go to the park, Raphaela will throw herself down the slide, no fear at all. I put my hand in front of her stomach just to slow her down and prevent her from falling at the base of the slide, and Raphaela almost seems to resent my interference. Not even eleven months old and she is asserting her independence.

Recently she has also started standing while barely holding onto furniture, the precursor to walking. I observe her physical strength and stability, and can hardly believe that last year at this time she was still growing inside my stomach.

I personally think it is a blessing that we don't remember events like teething and toilet training; if we remembered all the agonizing moments, we may not ever evolve into healthy confident adults.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

By the Numbers

I received word from my family doctor this week that my blood tests results show totally normal and stable readings, and that in her words, there is no reason to think that I could not have another child, should I choose to do so. The fact that I have not had my period for the last 19 months, in addition to continuing to nurse, has nothing to do with my ability to ovulate and get pregnant.

Then I realized that since Raphaela has been born, I sleep uninterrupted for no more than three hours at a time. I work full time and get through the day, but collapse by 8:30 pm.

I very much want Raphaela to have a sibling, but I think it most prudent to wait and see how/if my life changes once she starts Gan in October, and in theory I have more hours in the day for myself. The last thing I want is to spread myself too thin - emotionally, physically and financially- because I am in love with the idea of having another baby.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Breast Connection

This past Sunday, for the first time since Raphaela was born, I left her with a sitter all night, so that I could attend a wedding. Other than the oppressive heat and humidity of Tel Aviv, at a certain point I started to feel the milk filling up, and had no way to deal with with the discomfort. I learned several things that night, the least of which is that I am no longer able to stay awake until midnight, and that I miss my daughter when I am not in the same city as she.

Yesterday, the husband of a friend of mine started complaining to me, about how my friend is still breast feeding their year and a half old daughter. "Enough already," he said, "why can't my wife just move on and stop nursing?"

I answered this man honestly from my own experience. Men don't get it, and I am not even sure that I can put the feelings into words. There is something intense and wonderful, magical almost, with the connection between mother and child during nursing. If a woman can get past that first awful, awkward and difficult stage in infancy, breast feeding becomes fun, a time of bonding.

With my own supply starting to dwindle, I have felt sadness that this period for myself and Raphaela may be coming to an end. My books say that after one year, the actual nutritional value of breast milk is minimal in any case, and yet I hope we can continue.