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.