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.