Monday, May 31, 2010

My Very Own National Geographic Show

For the past two days, Harry has been sitting by the smaller window in the office. In the mornings he sits there and cannot stop talking, and today I finally figured out why: a pair of (common Israeli) pigeons have set up a nest there, if you can call the sad little pile of twigs a proper nest. The mother bird has laid one egg, upon which she sits as long as Harry isn't trying to swipe at her from the other side of the window. As a bird, the mother does not do much other than sitting and occasionally shifting her body position. And lots of blinking.

I personally have become fascinated by this show of nature, watching the mother sit and blink, and the father go back and forth to bring more twigs. Because they set up their nest in my office room, I must stop myself from being distracted. I can't wait until the baby bird pecks its way out of the egg, I can't wait to watch it learn how to fly.

For the moment I have barred Harry from the room altogether, so the mother bird doesn't have to run away every few minutes.

I only wish Raphaela were a bit older and could appreciate this gift of the beauty of nature.

Not that turning eight months old isn't an accomplishment in itself. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I am the mother of this amazing child, happy eighth month birthday Raphaela!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"You Forgot Your Son"

This morning, Raphaela and I did our usual ten minute walk to the care taker. Along the way we passed a teenage boy with his younger brother, a sweet little boy around three years old. All of a sudden, I heard an older Israeli man shouting at me, "Ma'am, you forgot your son." I turned around, quite confused. It turned out that the teenage boy had allowed his brother to wander off, and the older man naturally assumed that it was my child and I had somehow lost track of him, in my rush to get my even smaller baby to our destination.

From the days of Ben Gurion, Israel as a country has actively encouraged the expansion of the family, and has become internationally acclaimed for their cutting-edge fertility treatments. So I don't understand how the Israeli mentality has evolved into a culture that regularly forgets their babies in cars or at the beach, or presumes that a parent would "forget" a three year old boy and send him wandering in traffic.

El Al, the Jewish national airline, is the only air carrier I know that does not pre-board families with small children.

It is surreal moments like these that sadden me, and I wonder if Israel has lost its way from the ideals I espouse, and from the supportive atmosphere in which I had hoped to raise my own children.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mighty Powerful Women

Last night, in a post-birth first, I did not get into pajamas and go to sleep early, after putting Raphaela to bed. I got dressed up, hired a baby sitter and attended a Barnard Alumnae event in Jerusalem. It felt great to get out of the house and be a grown-up, and it amazed me how many women I knew in the room, Barnard graduates with whom I have regular interactions in my daily life, and I never made that connection.

Not that it surprises me, for example, that my colleague Dr. Diana Fleisher is a product of a Barnard education; she has revolutionized the Women's Health field in both Israel and abroad. Nor did it surprise me to see Beverly Gribbitz in the room, a woman who has set up a high quality, progressive girls' school here in Jerusalem. It may sound cliche, but we were educated to change the world, and make it a better place than it was before we arrived.

A discussion arose between Dean Denberg and an older alumna, regarding the suitability of Israeli women of American parents who apply to Barnard after the army. Dean Denberg stated that the school appreciated the more mature perspective and life experience of a person who had grown up in Israel. Those at my table disagreed, and we all felt that it would be harder for a more "hardened" and mature post-army Israeli woman at the age of 20 to integrate socially into an American Freshman class of largely superficial 18 year olds.

I appreciate everything that Barnard gave me, and hope that Raphaela can find a place that nurtures her in terms of her artistic and academic growth, though I am not convinced that she will graduate at Barnard in the class of 2034.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fog and Transition

On June 26, 2010, I will celebrate my "Bar Mitzvah" of aliyah, I will have lived in Israel as an Israeli citizen for 13 years. A little bit after that, I will hit the 15 year "itch" of Chiropractors, and I am already feeling that need to shake things up with my work; having a daughter may have precipitated an early onset of this condition, a child changes all priorities.

Since my return from the States after Pessach, I have been feeling as if I am living in a fog, in a place of neither here nor there, where other than spending time and taking care of Raphaela, I have lost my focus and my passion. As per the Law of Attraction, if I send out a message of ambivalence, the Universe responds tenfold, causing a slow down in my patient load and leading to anxiety about my financial situation. The fears push people further away, and then I get stuck in an unhealthy cycle.

I need to make a change in all areas of my life: my housing, my work and my social life. I want to find a place in a community which nourishes me and my daughter spiritually, physically and religiously; where I can see us thriving and enjoying life in the short and long term. I must decide to set aside time for myself, to take classes or attend lectures or work out in the gym; in principle I have no problems with leaving Raphaela with a baby sitter. I need to open myself to friendships new and established, and make room for a potential husband/lover/father, when the time is right.

I want to have another child, and cannot reasonably do so as a single parent with a limited income.

I was thinking of setting up an appointment with my Life Coach, with whom I have not consulted since I got pregnant. She helped me come to the most important and amazing decision in my life then, perhaps she can help me now.

I normally embrace change, and now my choices affect two people, and that may be the scariest part of all.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mommy and Me Classes

Raphaela's second swim lesson last week was less successful and fun than the first, as she had not napped in the morning and was somewhat tired; she melted down about 2/3 of the way through the class. Before tomorrow's swimming adventure, I am going to force her to nap, even if only for 45 minutes, that's enough to cover the 45 minutes of the session.

Tonight I took Raphaela to a Mommy and Me music group that was meeting down the block from our house. While my child loves listening to music and playing the drums at home, I fear that this class is more appropriate for children over the age of two, it has lots of singing and participation, and Raphaela cannot yet clap "Hooray" by herself.

I am learning that it will take experimentation on both our parts to discover Raphaela's particular skills. There may be someone in her class or among her friends who is better than her, and I will have to find a way to explain it to her, and to allow her to feel good about excelling in her own talents. I will also have to find a way to break out of my own competitive patterns, and remind myself that I (and my daughter) do not have to be the best at everything.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Simple Life

Raphaela has finally officially started crawling forward, rather than the continuous activity (fun!) of getting her self stuck under various pieces of furniture. She has two methods, one, which my care taker calls "Commando Crawling"; or the second, in which she gets on all fours, revs her body forward and then does a little hop. I know that eventually she will understand that it is much more efficient and far less traumatic to her knees to move one leg at a time.

I was thinking, and actually a bit jealous, that the life of a child at this age can be very focused and oh so simple. All Raphaela thinks about is learning how to crawl and playing with the various educational and yet entertaining toys that I spread out for her on her activity blanket. She knows that I will feed her and play with her and read her stories; she knows thank G-d that she has a Mommy who will take care of her and tuck her in at night, and be there the next morning.

Raphaela has no concept that the planet might be falling apart or that the Israeli government might be falling apart, nor does she care. She also doesn't know the constant stream of thoughts that regularly rush through my head, more so since we returned from the United States.

I feel frustrated and worried that my office has not picked up, that I must basically start from scratch to remind my patients that I am indeed back in Israel and working. If it were just me, I would obsess less, but now I have a child to think about. I cannot bear the idea that my daughter will feel the struggle of worrying about bills, or food or diapers.

For now, I have been dipping into my savings, and I am planning for the day when these concerns are a distant memory, when our lives are more stable.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Falling Into the Trap

I have always prided myself that I do not fall into the new parent competition, but today I lapsed. While doing errands this morning, I bumped into a woman who has a son one week older than Raphaela, and the conversation went something like this (names omitted to protect the innocent):

Me: Is your son crawling yet?
Other Mom: No, he isn't.
Me: It's crazy, she goes everywhere, I have to baby proof the house.
OM: Is she eating solids yet?
Me: She has tastings but isn't as enthusiastic as I would like.
OM: My son is a great eater, he eats right off my plate, everything that I eat.
Me: How's work?
OM: I just got back to work recently, it's hard leaving him with other people.
Me: Raphaela is doing great at her day care.

And we both walked away feeling superior, though I was left with a feeling of slight disgust at my behaviour.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bargain Hunt: The Diapers Edition

When I was pregnant, and stopped working about two weeks before the birth, I ended up watching too much television. Bargain Hunt (BBC) became one of my favorite shows, featuring an Austin Powers-type dentally impaired host named Tim. Tim gave 300 British pounds to two teams, they would canvas an antiques sale or a fair for, let's be honest, crap that other people purposely threw away. The three items would be offered for sale at a public auction, and whichever team lost less money, won the day.

I am too busy these days to catch most programs, but in fact I experience the Bargain Hunt challenge on a regular basis. Every week I receive coupons or circulars advertising a "sale" on diapers; the cheapest package of diapers I ever bought cost me 25 NIS (with special coupon), and to this day I have never paid full price, a whopping 64 NIS.

This week, the care taker informed me that she had run out of diapers, and so I went to my favorite supermarket, which offered two packages of Huggies for 95 NIS on special sale, or one package of Pampers for 49 NIS, or the second rate but not terrible diapers (Titulim) for 45 NIS. I was not spending a giant amount at the store, so the Huggies option fell through. I bought the Pampers for 49 NIS, because the difference in price between that and the Titulim was not enough to justify buying a lesser quality.

Raphaela's output has changed dramatically since she started eating solids, and I did not want to risk a major explosion of content.

Then the weekend paper featured a coupon for Pampers, 40 NIS/package. I have two full bags now, one for me and one for day care, but will probably buy another at this new price, hoping that her diaper size doesn't change any time soon.

Hell of a way to "save" money.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Raphaela Needs a Sibling

Every time I watch a television program where a woman gives birth, I of course start crying, remembering my own positive experience. I enjoyed being pregnant, that idea of a life growing inside me, my body encouraging her and nourishing her without me paying attention. I can't say that I enjoyed the birth itself - back labour, no epidural, the midwife disappearing on me in the middle - but when I held Raphaela for the first time, I felt the Greater Universe clicking into place.

Tonight, while flipping channels, I came across a silly reality show called "Kendra" (one of Hugh Hefner's former girlfriends), in which she has a C-section and becomes a mother, surrounded by her husband and her extended family. Hearing her complain about the pain of the contractions, seeing a new little boy come into the world on international television, I immediately thought, "I want to do that again, I want another one."

I want another child because I don't want Raphaela to be an Only, and I so enjoyed the first time around that I would look forward to another pregnancy. I want to have another baby while I can still conceive and carry a healthy boy or girl to term, without having to do complicated IVF or other fertility procedures.

Realistically speaking, however, I would only have another child presuming I were married, and had both the emotional and financial support as a mother and as a wife. I want to give Raphaela the best of me and the best life I can offer her, and that would not happen if I were a single mother of more than one.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

First Vaccine

Today Raphaela received her first vaccination ever. After deciding against the "Quintuple threat" [DPT plus Hepatitis and Oral Polio], I instructed the nurse that I wanted only Tetanus, which happens to be coupled with Diphtheria in Israel. With Raphaela crawling everywhere and eating dirt at the park, I want her to be protected.

The nurse agreed ("Whatever you say, you are the parent.") and then right before Raphaela was injected, I re-read the box and saw that it was in fact DPT; Pertussis is optional even in America these days. She didn't believe me but I finally got the correct vaccine.

Raphaela cried, a little. About two seconds later I gave my daughter a Chiropractic treatment, in front of the nurse and doctor, and explained that it would help avoid side effects like fever and irritability.

"Whatever you say, you're the parent."
Damn straight.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

How to Ruin a Perfectly Nice Day

One of the reasons I look forward to the weekend is because I have the time to sleep in a little, and to take Raphaela to the park without worrying about patient phone calls or specific dead lines. This afternoon, we took advantage of a warm Shabbat and went to the park down the street; we played on the swings and the slide, and I set up an activity blanket on the grass where we blew bubbles and hung out. I had dressed her in a blue outfit, one of the few that was appropriate for this heat, and so every parent kept asking me about my son, and after a certain point I stopped correcting them. My child will wear colors other than pink, and it doesn't change her anatomy.

The fun and relaxation of the day was tainted, however, by the looming fears about the week ahead. No matter how hard I try, I cannot stop myself from worrying (some might argue, obsessing) about the "what ifs." Even when I am enjoying the moment, the stress bubbles inside me, and I know that Raphaela can pick up on it.

For example, tomorrow Raphaela has a scheduled vaccination, the first since she was born, and I keep playing out scenarios of reported complications.

And every time I check my email, I am afraid that a mildly disturbed colleague will continue to bombard my inbox with border line verbally abusive messages.

My actual week could be more full, ever since I returned from the States I feel like I have to remind people that I am working. It is almost like the period of time after my maternity leave ended, my schedule is sluggish to say the least, and apart from the basic financial needs, I dislike having holes in the middle of my day, it shuts down my energy and my inertia.

I am especially aware of financial issues, now that I have begun the process of moving. Though only in the very initial stages, I would like to be in a new (more modern) home by September/October, when Raphaela turns one year old. I am still keen on moving to Efrat, where I have friends and a stronger sense of community, but apparently there is a housing shortage caused by the temporary building freeze. Rentals have become more expensive, and houses seem way past my budget, no matter how many tax breaks I get for being a single mother and buying over the Green Line.

I envision a good life for me and my daughter, filled with the joy we have now and more comfortable physical conditions, and I must keep my inner eye on the goal. It would be easier if I had a consistent and stable support system.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My Talented Daughter

Not only did my daughter enjoy her first swimming lesson, but she waited until she got out of the pool to pee. I am so proud!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Fright of My Life

The little boy who plays with Raphaela (the son of the care taker) has apparently come down with Strep. I don't know if it is viral or bacterial, and I can assume that Raphaela was exposed at least yesterday and the day before, before the symptoms came to light.

In taking her home today, I was distracted, thinking about the possibility of Raphaela getting ill in the next few days, and thinking about a work related problem. I stopped close to our house, on a steep street which used to have heavy traffic until it was closed down due to a property dispute with the Jerusalem Municipality. I put the breaks on the stroller in order to examine the boysenberry tree which has just started producing fruits. I know I put the break on, and the next thing I know, the stroller is barreling down the hill and gaining speed, and heading straight into a road which actually does have cars. Cars that are moving.

I dropped my cell phone and ran, the adrenaline pushing me to catch up with the stroller. I thought one hundred thoughts about what kind of damage might happen to my daughter. I didn't care what kind of damage would happen to me. I managed to catch the stroller with one hand, and then was afraid that the stroller would flip over and hurt Raphaela. I managed to get the stroller to the side, right before it arrived at the larger and busier road.

Meanwhile, Raphaela had a smile on her face. She had enjoyed the ride and seemed to be oblivious to the threat to her life that she had just avoided.

I know she is fine, and I know I locked the stroller, and I know that it will be very hard for me to sleep tonight.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Kid on the Bike

Today, after picking Raphaela up from the care taker, we walked to the park to meet my friends Michal and Yael and their son Daniel. One of the reasons I moved to Israel was because of the weather, I thrive in the dry heat of the Jerusalem Summer, and I am hoping that we can make a regular habit of an afternoon playdate in the sun. The socializing provides benefits for both of us, I get to hang out with the Mommies and Raphaela learns how to share with other children. (And how to eat dirt and grass and sticks.)

At one point there were four babies on the blanket, at various stages of movement and crawling and all of them keen to play with Michal's dog, Milky. Then the drama started.

Apparently a Lubavitch boy had run over a girl with his bike. She was scuffed and in shock mostly, and several of the parents made an effort to help her find her mother, and to find the parent of the boy on the bike. The mother of the boy came over and opened her interaction with, "I know I don't belong here."

We all looked at each other, none of us had judged her because she was dressed in a long skirt and a wig, and none of us had judged her as a poor parent. But before we could respond and explain to her that accidents happen, that this could become a learning experience for the boy, she started literally ranting:

"I know I don't belong here, and I know you are all laughing at me and talking about me, and thinking how could such a terrible mother take her children to the same playground as my child."

Then she paused for a moment and looked at her son, and said, "Look at what you did to her, you are never riding your bike again, as long as you live."

Then she turned to the mother of the girl, who was trying to provide some comfort and sanity, and said, "My son has maimed your daughter, she will never be the same. You should get her to a doctor. There can be no penance and no forgiveness for what he has done."

The group of mothers sitting there looked at each other, debating whether we should say something to down play the situation, feeling sorry for the boy. We decided that nothing we could say would change the mindset of this woman, who felt imagined persecution because of her level of religiosity and her perception of her parenting skills.

Even as we tried to ignore her, she continued to rush over and spout her cries of "Why are you all attacking me?", "I don't belong," and "I am so sorry my son is bad."

I am sorry that this boy and his siblings must grow up in a house of dysfunction and paranoia, with a mother who clearly needs a support system.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sleep Training, Night Two

Last night she fell asleep exhausted around 6:15 pm and slept eight uninterrupted hours, waking up around 2:30 am to have a nursing snack. My milk production has stabilized for the first time in two weeks, since returning from the Boston, and so the activity benefited both of us.

She then slept until 5:30 am and played in her crib for 15 minutes until I took her out, smile on her face.

So far, phtoo phtoo, none of that hysterical crying that I was promised by the books and by the doctor and by the care taker. Raphaela has never been a crying baby.

Harry has a secret method of getting into the building at night, which I discovered and closed off, so once he went outside, there was none of that in-out game on an hourly basis. I think, although I still feel cumulatively tired, that I slept six hours straight last night.

Now I must push myself to the next level, of not feeling guilty when I don't feed her in the middle of the night, and to teach her that she does not and should not eat out of habit.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sleep Training, Seriously

I gave Raphaela two weeks after our return from the extended stay in the United States to sort out her sleeping patterns, because she is at an age where habits start purposely and intentionally. She was falling asleep in her own room and in her crib, but after several hours would wake up, and would refuse to fall back asleep unless she were in my bedroom and my bed, right beside me.

Both my pediatrician and my care taker warned me that this phenomenon would be much harder to break once she got older, and actively encouraged me to gird myself for several nights of crying, after which Raphaela would "get it" and start sleeping through the night.

Last night, determined to not become one of the case studies on one of the Super Nanny shows I watch on the BBC, we went through the normal bedtime routine. She fell asleep on her own - as she normally does - and around 10:30 pm woke up. Without interacting per se, I gave her a quick nursing snack and put her straight back into bed, and waited nervously outside her door for the cry-fest to begin.

It didn't, really. There was minimal crying and then she slept straight through until about 5:30 am, a wake-up which falls within her normal parameters, though I would have preferred it be an hour later. I am feeling pretty good about phase one of this social experiment, and am ready to try again tonight, this time without feeding her, because she is clearly well fed and healthy and the eating has become a comfort mechanism. Upon the advice of several other friends who are mothers, a la the Furber method, I will substitute emotional comfort for the breast, and see how that works.

I want Raphaela to grow into an independent and secure child, and her learning to pacify herself at night is a skill way overdue.

The other problem I now must work through is Harry, who meowed loudly every hour on the hour after three am, and prevented me from getting proper sleep, something I should have been able to achieve last night. He has his own version of jet lag, testing me since we returned from our trip, pushing the limits and then checking if I have abandoned him again and locked him in the house. If he continues this behaviour, I will consider locking him out of the house instead.