Saturday, February 27, 2010


Today, Raphaela and I took on the driving rain and intermittent hail storms to attend a Shabbat lunch with a couple visiting from the States, one of my parents' oldest friends from New York. Once everyone stopped calling me by my mother's name - my mother and I share many facial features - we settled into the meal, and instead I was addressed as "Mama."

I know from friends that once you have a child, you are more often than not defined as "the mother of...", and you become the chauffeur who ferries the adored Princess from place to place.

Some would resent that loss of individuality and identity. I don't, in fact I enjoyed the attention and affection that Raphaela received. It felt like a good warm-up for our trip to Boston next month for Pessach, where my daughter will meet our extended family and friends.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Stroller Wars

Two weeks ago, mothers with strollers from all over Jerusalem took over Emek Rephaim on a Friday afternoon with a massive peaceful demonstration. The purpose of the march was to highlight the lack of services for young parents and their children, specifically in terms of getting around the city with ease, with a child; surprising for a country which encourages Jewish population growth.

I had no need to notice this phenomenon until Raphaela was born, and indeed, pushing a stroller in the streets of Jerusalem can be difficult, noisy and dangerous. For starters, not all sidewalks have a natural ramp, and if I am rushing to cross the street, I will often smash the wheels of the stroller against the curb, in my efforts to get the baby out of traffic.

Today though, was case-in-point of this problem, after I put Raphaela in the stroller to take her to the care taker this morning. When I got to the top of my street, several cars had parked at odd angles and on the sidewalk itself, so there was no clear space for the stroller. I had to disconnect the car seat (and Raphaela), hand her over this barrier to a random woman passing by, and then together we adults lifted the base of the stroller over one of the cars.

When I got to the closest intersection, they were doing what seems like endless construction on the water pipes, and so that part of the sidewalk was blocked by a noisy generator, several tractors and a steaming pile of fresh tar. In order to get around the confusing site, I had to walk the stroller into traffic, onto the street.

I decided to cross to the other side, to avoid the noise and air pollution, and less than two blocks later we hit another construction site. This time a cement mixer blocked the walk way, and I again pushed the stroller into on-coming traffic to avoid a moving crane.

I was thankful that the two of us arrived at the care taker alive and safely. Unfortunately today illustrated a slightly exaggerated scenario of a regular occurrence.

Which government office would handle my complaints?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sisters and Brother

My youngest brother was born when I had already graduated high school, with an 18.5 year difference between us. Because I worried that we would not have a relationship, I invested extreme effort into keeping close with him, coming home from college on weekends, calling when he could speak on the phone, and emailing once he had mastered the computer. When he spent his post-high school year in Israel, he spent every weekend with me and had his own room in my home; sometimes he brought friends with him, and I joked that I went from being single to being the mother of a six foot four, very hungry teenager.

As a consequence, we are quite close and I would want to be his friend even if we were not related. We can discuss books we like, and he sends me file copies of papers he has written; we have traveled together, and he is one of the few people with whom I can sit in a room quietly, and feel like we are spending quality time.

When my sister - who is seven years older than him - chose to become Ultra-Orthodox/Hareidi, got married and started having children, my brother felt betrayed, that he had lost a surrogate parent, and to this day his relationship with my sister and her family is strained. Even though he is the youngest of five children, he was raised basically as an only child, with many more resources available to him and with parents who were a little too tired to enforce the rules. He has spent his whole life with his siblings visiting and then disappearing, and has developed somewhat of an abandonment complex.

He has expressed similar concerns as regards the status of our relationship, now that I am a mother and the baby clearly has more immediate than he for my attention. I spoke to him again yesterday, telling him how excited I was for our visit on Pessach, and how he had better clear his schedule because I wanted to hear all about his plans for graduate school, the parties he has attended and the girl he is dating.

I could hear the relief in his voice, along with some persisting doubt. He needed to hear from me that there will always be a special place for him in my life, regardless of my child or when I should get married some time in the future. I feel like I still need to reassure him, until he believes 100% that he has not lost a sister, but rather gained a niece.

He gets, I think, a new and improved sister, as I am a more relaxed and forgiving person since giving birth to Raphaela.

When the Universe Gives

Last week, after surveying Raphaela's 6-9 month clothing supply, I worried at the dearth of decent outfits and resolved to go shopping this week. Shopping for babies is like going to a restaurant with a 20 page menu, the selection overstimulates and overwhelms me.

And then G-d and the Greater Universe kicked in and answered my concerns.

I spontaneously received three calls from people who had hand-me-down and new clothing (with the tag still attached in some cases) for little girls, and Raphaela got first dibs. Now not only are her drawers full again with wearable stretchies, but we have a gorgeous fancy dress, which Raphaela will wear tomorrow at my friend's son's Bar Mitzvah.

Thank you.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Today, four and three quarter months after giving birth, I took a small tentative step toward dating. While I do not feel ready for a one-on-one experience, Raphaela and I went to a Shabbat singles event in the neighborhood, a five minute walk from my apartment.

I shower and dress every day, but today I had to think about presenting myself and my child as the happy package we are. I debated leaving Raphaela with a friend, and cleverly mentioning my daughter as part of the conversation with potential men, and then decided that "Show and Tell" represented the most simple and direct means of communication. Raphaela is not only an aspect of my being, right now and for quite a while she will be the biggest part of my daily routine and my thoughts, and for that I rejoice rather than feeling ashamed. Any person interested in getting to know all the facets of my life, must include my daughter.

As a person who does not enjoy being the focus of a conversation, I knew that bringing a baby (no matter how cute) into a room full of singles would raise eyebrows and cause chatter. As a friend of mine said, however, "Someone has to be the first to bring a baby to one of these events."

The luncheon started out with some discomfort, when one of the organizers approached me at the door and asked, "Do you belong here?" I replied that if this was indeed a singles event as billed, I had every right to be there, as I am in fact a single woman.

I was the one of the youngest adults in a room mostly filled with women between 40 and 65, and men between 55 and 65 years old. Many of the women gravitated toward Raphaela, either because they had grown children of their own, or because they wish to be mothers and have not/ will not take the steps I pursued to become a single parent by choice. Most of the men in the room ignored me, which I did not mind as I did not feel a particular attraction to any of them anyway; someone ought to tell a never-married man in his 50's that he is more apt to attract a successful and attractive woman if he takes care of his body.

I spoke to a few friends, had some fruit salad and used Raphaela as an excuse to sit outside on the porch. Went back inside for one more round of socializing and then walked home, enjoying with my daughter the relaxed pace and fine sunshine of the day.

Perspective Shift

Yesterday, I spoke to my sister (12 years younger), who told me that she is pregnant with her fifth child, and is due to give birth in the Summer.

In the past, before Raphaela, I spoiled my nieces and nephews, as any proper aunt must, doubly so because I didn't think I would have my own children. Now that I myself have the status as a mother, I share a different deeper relationship with my sister; I relate to her pregnancy not as an abstract concept but rather as a shared experience, and I do not envy her family status. I will continue to spoil my nieces and nephews, without pangs of sadness.

I too am a Family, albeit the alternative model to the traditional one.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Counting Time

Nine years ago today, I survived a Palestinian sniper's attack on the Tunnel Road in Gush Etzion, 32.5 years to the minute that I was born in New York City.

Around this day last year, I saw my baby's heart beat for the first time, after being told in error by the doctors that I was not carrying a viable fetus.

Last night, Harry woke me up more often than Raphaela.

Life is good, I am the most content I have ever been within myself, and my daughter brings me more joy than I ever could have imagined.

And yet the twisted recesses of my imagination plague me on a regular basis.

When I pass a person in a wheel chair, or a child with Downs Syndrome, I wonder what I would have done about the pregnancy if I had found out that Raphaela carried a genetic disability.

As I stand on the sidewalk with Raphaela in the stroller, waiting for a green light, I wonder what would happen to my child if I got killed in an accident, who would take care of her and raise her.

How would I find her if she were G-d Forbid kidnapped?

Will we live on the street if I cannot earn enough money?

I worry that the plane we take on British Air next month will crash, and I will have to hold her while we bail out into the ocean.

Who will protect Raphaela when she is 18 years old, if she chooses to become a soldier in the Israeli army?

Will I ever get married?

I don't understand this tendency of my mind to play out worst case scenarios, events which will never happen, and I would not wish upon anyone.

We live this life, with our souls living in a borrowed body, for the purpose of refining ourselves and toward experiencing the full range of experiences and emotions.
Today I am happy.

NB Here is what Vicki Iovine, author of the Girlfriends' Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood, has to say about what she calls, Fantasies of Disasters or Bizarre Fears:
"I was forever imagining disasters that could befall the baby while she was in my care...I also dreamed on a regular basis that I went somewhere with the baby and then left without her, completely forgetting I'd given birth. My Girlfriend Chrissie used to worry that she would stand too near a balcony or ledge while holding her newborn and inexplicably lose her grasp, sending the baby flying into space."

In other words, I am a normal new mother.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentines Day, Single Parent Style

In honor of Valentines Day, the weekend edition of the Israeli paper Yidiot Achronot produced a magazine about Love. The edition featured an interview with four single parents from the Mercaz/ Tel Aviv area, all in their mid to late 40's, and dealt with the special considerations regarding dating and marriage with a child involved; a child who does not officially have a father.

While I seriously disagreed with the woman who stated that her son was more reliable and a better partner than any man could be in an adult partnership, for the most part I was relieved to hear that all these women had waited between six months and several years before starting dating again. They all spoke about the time constraints involved in working and caring for an infant, and the emotional turmoil connected to bringing a man into the life of their child, without knowing that he would stick around long enough to become a good husband or a good father.

They claimed that once a woman has a child, the "biological clock" issue becomes moot, and a man is more attracted to a woman who does not have a cloud of commitment stress hanging over her head. One woman now enjoys sex for sex's sake with younger men, relationships without strings or expectations. They also claimed that men prefer to date a woman with an uncomplicated story ie that there is no ex-husband or ex-lover involved in shared custody; that has not been my personal experience with men who have approached me since the birth of Raphaela.

The article closed with the corroborating statements of a psychologist, who reassured the readers that a two to three year hiatus before actively dating will harm neither the mother nor the child, and that ultimately, the child must know that the love he/she enjoys with their mother will not change when another adult enters the picture.

Apparently there are a lot of single parents by choice out there.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Defining Relationships

Several times this weekend, people have said to me, "Oh, you're so lucky you gave birth to a girl, you two will be such good friends." I immediately responded - in a non hostile, non holier than thou way - that it was actually much more important that I be Raphaela's mother than her friend; that my child know that there are boundaries in her life and that she is responsible for her actions and behaviour.

Of course I hope that along with the mothering comes a love, a mutual respect and that my daughter will not be embarrassed to be seen with me; maybe even choose to hang out with me once in a while. Ultimately, however, I must impart a value system and establish the rules that will keep her safe and happy and directed toward positive goals, and as a single parent, I play both Mother and Father ie Good Cop and Bad Cop.

I cannot claim to understand the secrets to successful parenting, as I have only been on the job for four and a half months. In fact, most of my knowledge and decisions until this point come from books and Super Nanny type programs from the BBC, along with my intuition. But I am sure that children appreciate rules, because it shows that the person actually wants them to live a contented life and come home safely at night, to people who love them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Performance Anxiety II

Now that I am back to work full-time, I must schedule milk expressing in between patients, as I miss two of Raphaela's feedings while she plays at the care taker; if I don't pump, my breasts feel like they will explode, not to mention that it directly affects the quantity of milk I am able to produce on average.

Most of my Chiropractic clients either come on time, or a little late, and some arrive early on purpose, thinking that if they make their presence known, they will be seen sooner than planned. That used to work, before the breast feeding thing happened.

Yesterday, I started my expressing break and got about 100 ml (4 ounces), quite pleased with myself because the day before I was unable to pump as much as I thought I should have. I was about to switch to the other side, when a patient arrived, a whole 20 minutes early. Despite her protest - "Pretend I am not here...I won't bother you...etc." - as soon as she walked in the door my professional brain kicked in, and the milk stopped flowing.

I tried to go into another room and close the door, but then the patient started her usual campaign of what I call 'active quiet,' meaning that she coughed, moved chairs around, talked loudly on her cell phone; all so I wouldn't forget that I left her camping out in my salon.

I gave up, put the Avent pump away, and invited her into the treatment room, her protests trailing all the way. She should not take it personally, the milk would stop if I was feeling stressed or pressured for time in any way.

This working mother routine is harder than it sounds.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What to Wear

On an unseasonably warm day for Winter, I was walking today after work to the care taker, to pick up Raphaela. I reminded myself, as I had this ten minutes to clear my head, that I must take the 6-9 month clothing out of the closet and transfer it to her dresser, as she has outgrown (in height) most of the 3-6 outfits.

When I passed the bus station near the care taker's apartment, I saw a group of ten year old Israeli girls standing there, and one girl in particular, quite frankly, was dressed like a prostitute. Stick thin and probably anorexic, with a mini-skirt that barely covered her tush and a see-through sweater with cleavage. It made me sad, to think that this child believes that this represents an appropriate way of dressing; and it made me scared, knowing that I will somehow have to find the balance with Raphaela between her individual style, and a sense of propriety and decency.

Think about the role-models girls have, starting with the Barbie dolls I played with as a child. Tall, size negative two waist, blond haired and extremely accessorized. I even had an African American Barbie, which I recall I traded to a friend of mine for some other toy. My Barbie days stopped when I brought her to school one day, dressed (I thought) as Wonder Woman, and realized with horror that Barbie had lost her top, and was in fact mostly naked. Much cruel taunting ensued in the playground that day.

My friend's children idolize the Bratz dolls, which in my opinion only encourage the child prostitute look. I do not intend, inasmuch as I can control anything, to let Raphaela think that White Trash is the way to live life.

I have actually found a doll which inspires me because it recognizes a girl's distinct look, and because it does not cost a fortune. Manhattan Toy Company makes a line of soft dolls called "Groovy Girls," they are ethnic and have all variations of hair and skin. Several years ago I found one that looked like it could have been my voodoo doll, and so I bought it; I am waiting for Raphaela to grow just a little bit more, and settles into a look of her own, and then we will choose her Groovy Girl doll together.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Germ Warfare

Raphaela and I just returned from a weekend away, our second since she was born. For the most part, we both enjoyed ourselves and Raphaela received almost constant attention; so much so that I had to explain to my friend's children that putting a four month old baby on the floor with toys, to play by herself, does not constitute neglect.

Today, for Shabbat lunch, my friend invited over a woman who takes single parenthood to a whole new level: her husband left her and her nine children, and she is raising them essentially on her own. For this meal, she only brought her three year old son, and spent much of the meal describing in all its gory detail the various illnesses to which members of her family have been exposed in the last month. This glorious list includes bacterial meningitis ("It was my daughter's desk-mate at school! Isn't that wonderful?") and chicken pox. ("I can't remember if my children had chicken pox, or if they got the vaccine. Isn't that amusing?")

Not amusing at all, especially when she announced that if anyone at the table had not yet experienced chicken pox - ie my four month old baby and my friend's youngest son - they had been officially warned.

I immediately insisted that because I am actively breast feeding, Raphaela should be covered by my immunity history, which thank G-d includes my own serious case of chicken pox at the age of four. The other adults at the table immediately tut-tutted, and politely criticized me for not having vaccinated my own baby against all conceivable diseases, as Israel is apparently a Third World Country.

I hope I kept my cool at the table and in front of the company, but inside I was seething, and my only First Time Mother Instinct was to get myself and my child away from this table and away from these people. My new pet peeve since giving birth is inconsiderate parents who think that they can justify their irresponsible and thoughtless behaviour by "giving the baby's immunity a workout."

If your kid is sick, or has lice, please don't share. And stop making fun of the new mother, when she is in the room.

I chose to wait until six months and/or the end of breast feeding to vaccinate Raphaela, and I don't appreciate being told that "it's no big deal if she has to stay home for a week with the chicken pox." Will this woman take care of my baby when I have to work? Does she have some sort of telepathy to explain to a four month old why she is itchy and in pain?