Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Where's the Abba?

Yesterday, on the way home from Gan, Raphaela was talking about the other childrens' fathers, and she asked in Hebrew, "Where's my Abba?"

The question didn't surprise me.  When we play with her dolls, there is always a mother and father and a baby.  She has playdates with friends who have two parents in the home.  Raphaela observes both fathers and mothers picking up their children at the end of the nursery day.  I have never tried to ignore the concept.

I answered her with the explanation that has been my standard response for at least the last year:  "There are many different kinds of families.  Some children like you live with their Mommy.  Some children live with Daddy.  Some live with two parents and some live with grandparents."  I then continue, "We are all special families, and I love you as big as space.  I will always love you and I will always be your Mommy."

She accepted my statement and we moved on without incident.

A phone call later that evening renewed thoughts about the traditional father-mother paradign.  A 51 year old divorced man had gotten my number from a matchmaker,  he wanted to speak and possibly set up a date.  He has three children who are relatively older, and he is apparently a very involved father, sharing custody with his ex-wife here in Israel.  He also travels a lot for business, and therefore we were unable to find a time that I did not have plans, and when he was in the country in the near future.

He sounded normal enough, and though 51 feels a bit old for me, (sperm quality, generational gap and all that) I am certainly willing to give him a chance; I find that I cannot truly asses another person unless we meet face-to-face.  I despise what I call "interview dates" on the phone, my experience with Israeli men has been that they use communication media to ask brusque business-like questions, in order to decide if I am even worth the cup of coffee.

We actually ended the conversation because Raphaela started crying in her sleep, and I needed to take care of my daughter.

After we hung up, I experienced an explosion of trepidations that ran the gammut:  Was I ready for dating and intimacy?  Could I love and accept someone else's children from a previous marriage?  Could he love and accept my daughter as much his own?   How do I really know if a man will make the right fit for me and my 'special family'?

I should be grateful and open to the idea, at the age of eight a wonderful man embraced me and my brother as part of the package when he married my mother.  I simply don't know if I am capable of the same generosity and virtue.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shower Torture

CIA interrogators are rank amateurs compared to my daughter.  Here is her devious plan, I think she took her cue from Harry, who finds a way to sit on my lap or on top of the newspaper or keyboard at the most inconvenient moments.  I think the last time I took a relaxed shower was two days after I gave birth to Raphaela, while the nurse at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Baby Hotel watched her for ten minutes.

Phase I:  After the water has been heated, distract Mommy with as many different request and tantrums as you can think of, including, "I want breakfast," "I need a diaper change," "Can you read me this book?" and the most creative, "I am going to Gan today in my pajamas."

Phase II: Once Mommy has dealt with any minor crisis, is standing naked in the bathroom and is about to get into the shower, declare that you too want to take a shower with Mommy. Then take five minutes to get undressed and to organize all the toys with which you will play inside the tub.

Phase III:  After bringing half the toy chest into the tub, and Mommy has put on the water, decide that you don't actually want to play with anything. Rather, lay down right between Mommy's legs, right under the stream of water, so that Mommy is crowded into a corner and you get all the hot water.  Keep Mommy guessing each morning, by stating on a regular basis that you do NOT want to take a shower, even if you are invited to do so.

Phase IV:  On those rare mornings when you are busy doing other things, and Mommy has a glimmer of false hope, keep going in and out of the bathroom while she showers.  Keep the door open, please, so all the warm steam can escape.  At irregular intervals, open the shower curtain as well. Remember all those urgent distractions from Phase I? Use them all while Mommy has shampoo in her hair.

Phase V:  Once Mommy is dressed for work, and is expected to look like a professional Chiropactor, make sure to wipe your nose on her outfit, just for good measure.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tonight Raphaela and I were playing together, and for the first time since we moved in September, she noticed the group of framed photos of family and friends.  We started going over each picture, I would name the person and explain their relationship to her, and she would repeat the name.

Among the collection, I showed her one cracked photo in an old frame, a snapshot of myself at the age of four, when I was a flower girl at my aunt's wedding.  This particular item had occupied my grandmother's night stand until she passed on.

Raphaela asked, "Who is that?" And I answered, "That is Mommy, when I was a little girl just like you."

I wish I had captured her reaction on video, because you could almost see the wheels turning in her amazing sponge-like brain.  She stared at first, and as comprehension dawned, she broke out into a huge smile and exclaimed, "Baby Mommy!"  Then she hugged the frame tightly and gave the picture a kiss.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Black Friday

If I ever needed a reminder as to why I do not plan on raising my daughter in America, the media came to the rescue. 

An editorial in The Forward, entitled "The American Shabbat, " stated the following:  "Macy's flagship store in New York City's Herald Square and more than 800 branches around the country opened just after the clock struck midnight on Black Friday.  So did Target and Best Buy. Walmart got the jump on its competitors by opening at 10 pm on Thanksgiving Day, but Toys R Us beat them all by starting it Christmas sales that day at 9 pm, three hours before Black Friday even officially began."

Reuters news service reported that "Black Friday turned into a black mark against American shoppers as riotous crowds brawled over video games, waffle irons and towels, drawing international condemnation and even raising questions about the state of humanity."  [Emphasis mine]

The article continues, "One of the most outrageous incidents of the day was in the Los Angeles area, where up to 20 people were injured after a woman at a Walmart used pepper spray to get an edge on other shoppers in a rush for Xbox game consoles." [Emphasis mine]

Pepper spray!?  What is the point of the Occupy Wall Street Movement in New York and around the United States, and the parallel Social Justice Initiative in Israel if not to point out the idiocy of crazed consumerism, and its negative affect on the spiritual and economic development of the human race?

The new battle cry for the United States seems to be, "Give me $1.88 towels or give me death!"

I fully admit that Israeli society is not totally innocent in this regard, the local paper Kol Hair reported this weekend that the Malcha Mall in Jerusalem is the highest grossing mall in the country, ironically, in the poorest city in this country;  and there are plenty of Israeli citizens who get wrapped up in the status game. However, the values of family, community and tradition still outweigh the trend toward emulating the American model, and for that I am grateful.

To paraphrase a core value in Judaism, "Who is wealthy? She who is content with her present life."

Friday, November 25, 2011

I am Thankful

I am thankful for last night's delicious Thanksgiving dinner at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, and for Ruthie, who put together a fun group of 30 plus proud and hungry Americans at our table.
I am thankful especially for the turkey, roast beef, Cornish Hen and duck, and the hot Apple Brown Betty.  Less impressed with the stuffing (too much pepper) and most of the desserts (parave, looked better than they tasted).
I am thankful to the woman at our table who said the following, when I expressed concern at the amount of food I was inhaling:  "You can afford to eat this way, you're so thin!" (G-d bless you!)
I am thankful to my daughter Raphaela, who fell asleep in her stroller at some point in the meal, so I was able to socialize with other adults, as an adult.

I am thankful to my lawyer, who must now handle a second round of negotiations with my amoral criminal former landlord.
I am extremely thankful to the Universe that when Raphaela fell yesterday during a day trip at Gan, and hit her head against sharp rocks, they missed her left eye by the most minute amount.
I am thankful that despite the standard s**t that goes on my life, I feel like I am in a good place.

I am thankful for the next round of holidays, both Jewish and international, and for the Christmas carols already swimming around in my head.  But why can't they wait in Israel until closer to Chanukah, before they start pulling out the jelly doughnuts?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Expressive Kavannah

When I first moved to Israel, I took an art class called Expressive Kavannah, which combined meditation, movement, lessons from Judaism and philosophy, and culminating in expression through art (sculpture, drawing, painting etc.).  I enjoyed the class, but got busy with 'stuff', and it has been too many years since I granted free reign to my creative side;  note that taking photos of Raphaela does not count, as much as I love her.

Happily, the teacher re-activated the class and I attended the first lesson today;  my ability to allow the creative impulse to flow, to let go of the contraints of my reality worked out better than I expected.  The theme of the meditation was Genesis, the concept of creation vs creating, and the idea that the Universe can respond to our needs in an infinite number of ways.

And my Christmas list is long, my friends.  One of the reasons I can take a class in the middle of the afternoon is because work remains slower than I would like, I worry about paying the bills and having enough left over to take care of mine and Raphaela's basic needs.  At least three "older women" from my neighborhood (ie women my age, without children) have gotten engaged or married in the last week, and I wonder when I will meet the my soulmate, and a loving father for Raphaela.  I thank G-d every day that I have not yet ruined my daughter, and hope that I can continue to figure out what I may be doing wrong, before it negatively affects her.

For me, this painting started as a representation of the Big Bang and space, infinite possibility and a far greater perspective on the stressors of our life, when we realize that we are but a speck on planet Earth, and that Gaea is but a speck in the Andromeda Galaxay, and that our galaxy is one of many expanding millions of stars. (With thanks to Douglas Adams...)  At some point in the process of the image, I stopped thinking rationally and realized that my Earth was tapping into the energy of the Universe with a psuedo umbilical cord , and that I was actually grabbing to hold onto the Sun as as source of power and strength.  The movement of space became a wave form, crashing over my fears and frustrations, and the empty space an invitation for abundance in every aspect of my life.

Without noticing, my brush went on thick and intense, in van Gogh like strokes, as I layered color on top of color.

The existential creation question is asked:  how could we fallible and finite humans exist in the place where the Higher Power lives, in his/her perfection and infinite-ness?  The Zohar answers that G-d receeded, that he/she took a small step back to allow for us puzzling creatures to live and grow and make mistakes.  That is the white area of my painting, the unknown future and the faith I need to tell myself that it will all work out.

I present this piece, entitled "From Chaos, Order"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Better Late than Never

In the Summer, Raphaela had already taken her first steps but seemed hesitant to embrace the activity of walking over speed-crawling.  Concerned, our family doctor referred us for physical therapy, but as it happens with managed care, the first available appointment with a pediatric specialist was scheduled for today, approximately three months later, after Raphaela started officially walking.

While I see improvement in her stability and skill every day, I want Raphaela to receive a full work-up from an unbiased source;  it doesn't hurt, and I also need advice from the Childhood Development Center as to how to encourage Raphaela to feel more confident going up and down stairs.  Besides, it gives us the excuse to take a bus downtown, and my daughter loves busses and tractors, in fact any large moving vehicle is a source of great fascination.

Other than the cold and rain of our Israeli Winter, which made standing outside a bit prohibitive, Raphaela found walking through the center of town highly stimulating, said "hello" to everyone who walked by, and counted all the busses and taxis on the road.  The Childhood Development Center itself was far more impressive than I expected, we were treated by a bilingual, highly qualified PT in a bright room full of toys and balancing beams and trampolines.  Raphaela essentially had a gymboree room all to herself, and other than a few specific tests, the PT did not interrupt her play, but rather observed.

Today I learned the following: one, Raphaela's delay in walking may or may not have been caused by her pre-surgery breathing issues, combined with low-grade hypotonia.  Two, because Raphaela is such an active child, the hypotonia (though it remains in the system) should not affect her in any real way, for the rest of her life.  Three, given that she only started walking recently, she is "on track" and will catch up quickly. Four, Crocs are not the spawn of the Devil, just less preferrable footware.  Five, for all of her good intentions, the head nursery teacher must stop pressuring me and Raphaela, and should respect Raphaela's natural growth rate.

The PT gave me some exercises to do at home with Raphaela, to improve stair-climbing and jumping, but happily informed me that we do not need to return for extended visits.  On the way home, I treated Raphaela to a cookie, and she happily munched while looking outside the window of the bus, humming to herself.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

RivkA Redux

"Have Faith."
"Believe in Miracles."
"Choose Life."

RivkA Zuckerman Matitya, my brave and jubilant friend who died last year after a long battle with breast cancer, appeared larger than life on the screen, at the Memorial Gathering in her honor in Jerusalem tonight.  I recognized many people in the packed room, and marveled at the diversity of the gathered group:  young and old, religious and secular, Israeli and Anglo-Saxon, from all walks of life.  All the people that I knew, scattered among the crowd, unified by RivkA; they would not have been in the same room together otherwise.

A leader in the La Leche movement, a swim instructor, a special-needs educator, inspirational speaker, blogger, and a loving mother and wife.  I am overwhelmed how RivkA's embrace of life continues to influence those around her, one year after her passing.  I am sad for her three children and husband, her siblings and her parents, who must feel the loss every day.  I wonder how much more she could have accomplished had she defeated the disease.

I returned home tonight feeling ashamed of myself for not contributing more to my community and for the world at large, disappointed because I want to leave the world a better place than it was when I first entered this plane of existence.

 My mind started to recall the person I was in college, when I first met RivkA.  If there was a political cause, I joined with a vengance.  If I observed injustice in society, I pursued a solution with passion.  I can vividly recall a conversation in the Barnard-Columbia Kosher kitchen, in which it was decided that I would (naturally) be Prime Minister of Israel, the next woman PM after Golda;  and then I hand-picked my cabinet from my assembled close friends, based upon their individual strengths and our committment to Israel and the Jewish people.

I was going to be regularly featured on the front page of the New York Times.  I was going to change the world.

Yet here I am today, 43 years old, quietly helping my Chiropractic clients improve their health and lead better lives for themselves and their families. I volunteer with the Jerusalem Street Cat Society.   I don't feel like that is enough.  Here I am, 43 years old, raising my amazing daughter to G-d willing be the most fulfilled person, to be able to express the best parts of her.  Is that enough?  I can say for sure that if Raphaela is my legacy as a human being and as a mother, that will be enough for me, I take joy from that knowledge every day.  If my taking the step to become a single mother by choice helps another woman fulfill her dream, I am thankful to serve as an inspiration or a role model on some small level.

And yet, I want to do something bigger, something more substantial.  I need to rediscover my Inner Idealist, the woman who seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of paying bills and managing schedules and simply surviving.

When my grandmother died, so many people came to the shiva, many of whom we did not know.  We listened to their stories, how they came to fall into my Bubby's sphere of influence.  One woman told us that my grandmother had been cooking her and delivering to her Shabbat meals,every week for the last twenty years.  One man told us that my grandmother had been volunteering at the hospital with him, in her "spare time."  Several married couples told us that if it had not been for my grandmother, their relationship would not have lasted intact all these years.  And on and on...

We always knew my grandmother didn't sleep much, but we had no idea how much she gave of herself, often at the cost to herself.

When I have lived a long life, when I move on, what will be said about me?  Will I have made a real difference?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pre-Thanksgiving Thoughts

Last year, when my parents came to visit for Chanukah, the Jewish holiday happened to fall closer to Thanksgiving rather than Christmas.  I had wanted to take my parents to the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, for their very fancy gorge-yourself Thanksgiving dinner, which takes place even on the appropriate day every year, the last Thursday of November.  We're talking all the traditional foods, plus...salads and appetizers and desserts galore.  All that's missing are the Black Friday sales the day after the feast.

Unfortunately, Raphaela and I were not feeling 100%, and my parents used the opportunity to fulfill an obligation to visit Ultra-Orthodox relatives, so we missed the first opportunity in too many years to celebrate Thanksgiving together, as a family.

This year, I decided that I would take Raphaela to this meal at the Inbal Hotel, no matter how much it cost and no matter how late it starts, because I want to start a new Israeli tradition with her.  I remember and appreciate where I came from, all that my American cultural background has given me, and the positive memories I have of our extended family gathering at my grandmother's house on Thanksgiving each year.  And my grandmother was a phenomenal cook and baker, we did indeed stuff ourselves.

Then I thought, it would be more fun to go with other American friends, those who still think about this holiday with pleasure and pride in their heritage and upbringing.  That's where I got stuck:  my one close (single) friend who would have come with us will actually be in the States this year for Thanksgiving.  Another American couple I know have other plans with work friends for the meal. 

Turns out that most of my close friends in Israel are not English speakers, nor Americans, but rather Israeli, Russian-Israeli or some European version thereof.  After 14 years in this country, most would congratulate me on a successful integration into Israeli society, and some part of me feels most pleased at this surprising realization.  The other part of me could not fall asleep last night, mining my brain to come up with one name of an American whom I could invite.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Four Sons

Yes, I know it's a little early to be thinking about Pessach, but I had an idea about child development, based upon the concept of the Four Sons.  The way in which they approach the holiday, their observance and acceptance of the Jewish heritage, symbolizes as well the route of the development of the mind, and the human.

At first, a baby can only focus on the essentials, ie food, sleep, attention and filling diapers, and that phase lasts into the beginnings of early language.  They "don't know how to ask" because it doesn't interest them, the rest of the world is outside their sphere of influence, they are the center of their parents' universe.

Then a toddler starts asking "What's that?"  The question certainly isn't sophisticated, and you can't expect to have a philsophical discussion about existentialism with a two year old;  but the child starts to realize that an entire spectrum of experience thrives outside their bubble of family and friends and Gan.

Raphaela has arrived at the Simple Son stage.  Through pointing and three word sentences, I hear a lot of "What's that?"  and "No, I don't want..."  She spends hours in imaginary play, baking birthday cakes (her favorite cooking activity) and lecturing her dolls and Harry about how the world works.  This morning she woke me up at five am, presented me with the clothing she had chosen from her drawers and declared that she was ready to get dressed and start her day.

The independence building that starts now with "I don't want..." transitions straight into the Rebellious Son.  At some point, having understood the rules and the proper protocols of civilized society, we all want to see what will happen when we color outside the lines.  Our parents embarass us, and it's no fun to have homework, or a curfew.  I personally believe that rebellion represents the most important phase of our development as individuals, to become grown-ups who respect their tradition and can be their own person, forge new paths and takes risks without being tied into the rigid expectations of family and religion.

If I had to repeat any time in my life, it would be college.  I made life-long friends, found the joy and the artist within myself, and stopped being so damned serious all the time.

I didn't break out of the Good Girl mode until my 20's, too late as far as I am concerned;  I didn't make the most important choice of my life, the one that brought about the birth of my amazing daughter, until I was 39 years old.  Call me a late bloomer, I suppose.

The last step in our emotional and intellectual development is the Wise Son, the adult who understands that there is a place for rules, and a place for breaking the rules;  a person who understands the full value of experience, continuity and community.

I will make my way there, eventually, with all the human mistakes that go along with it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Final Frontier

I very often say to Raphaela, "I love you as big as SPACE."  She agrees and smiles, and sometimes gives me a kiss in return.

If you are puzzled by the reference, Space is infinite and always expanding, and can also be used as a metaphor for G-d, or your higher power of choice.  As a concept, space represents ALOT of love.

This morning, I dropped Raphaela at Gan, and as usual, we were the first to arrive.  She immediately got down to business, and walked over to the trays of toys and activities, which for the moment, she had all to herself.  As a parent, I am pleased with her eagerness to play independently, and her comfort level at the nursery school;  it allows me to relax during the day, knowing that Raphaela is in a happy and secure place.

But I could not help myself, I wanted to give her a cuddle and a kiss before I left. (She's just that yummy...)   I went over to her and said, "I love you Raphaela,"  and got 'the face'; that expression that one would normally expect from teenagers who are embarrased by their parents.  The face that said, "OMG, C'mon Mommy, don't do that to me in public!"

I laughed, and ignored her protests, and I know that deep down she enjoyed the affection.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Vicious Cycles

My Chiropractic clinic, like life in general, experiences highs and lows.  I have busier days and weeks, and less busy periods.  I like when I hop from patient to patient, it keeps my energy up in the stratosphere, I feel like I provide a constructive service to society, and bonus, I make money for me and my child.

Over the Jewish holidays, de facto I took off for two weeks, because Raphaela did not have Gan and it was virtually impossible to find a baby sitter from my extensive list.  As a result, two weeks after the fact my office visit numbers have slowed down dramatically, because no doctor who runs their own business can expect a consequence-free two week vacation.

I do not get financial assistance from my family, and during a "normal" month, that is not an issue.  In a month where I must spend lots of unexpected money on my car, among other surprises, it makes a huge difference to finances, and my sanity.  I get depressed and worried when I look at my Palm Pilot and see that there are days with huge gaps.  There is that higher voice, the one that communicates well with the Universe that knows that it will pick up again, and the uncertainty of this period of time will pass.  I also know that if I broadcast my concerns - both to the Universe and to my daughter - I will get back what I send out, and G-d knows I don't want it to get worse.

It doesn't stop me from having a hard time falling asleep at night, and I have certainly been praying more than usual.

Today a woman came to me for an emergency appointment, a friend of my cousins and a person who usually sees another Chiropractor, who was not available to her.  After she received a thorough and extra-long treatment, she then explained to me that her regular DC charges her a minimal amount, out of 'charity'; but since she felt so much better, she was willing to pay me 1/4 of my fee.  I am not sure what feels more lousy, working less overall or not being valued  and respected for the time and devotion I give to my clients.

Meanwhile, there is still food to buy and bills to pay.

Friday, November 4, 2011

G-d's Mysterious Ways

Last night and this morning, Jerusalem received its first real rainfall.  This is good news for Israel.

Less good news for me:  I got into the car this morning to take Raphaela to Gan, and noticed a small lake on the floor of the seat beside the driver.  That most distinctly is not meant to happen, and I don't need to be a car mechanic to understand this fact.

I drove Raphaela to Gan, and then immediately took the car to the Renault garage.  They told me that it sounded like a "quick fix," and that I would have the car before Shabbat.

They called  several hours later, to inform me that it was a "good thing" that the flooding forced me to take the car for examination, because they tested for its Winter driving capabilities;  they found that the tires were too worn down and that the break pads needed replacing as well.

A quick fix just became a shitload of money.  But if the drainage system had not malfunctioned, Raphaela and I might have been in involved a [G-d Forbid] terrible accident instead.

So I am thankful to go into Shabbat healthy and whole, both of us.

(My bank account will feel less thankful on Sunday morning, when I pick up the car.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Report Card

Several years ago, my parents cleaned out the paperwork in the house in Boston and presented each of their children with various records collected and saved over the years.  In looking at my nursery report card, I was amused to see the following comment from my teacher, Mrs. H. Cohen:
"She tends to stay by herself.  She does not mix with the other boys and girls.  She prefers to be with me."

By the end of the year, apparently I performed better in terms of mixing with the other children my own age, and was "Promoted to first grade."  Horray for mini-Me!

As well, I received a "Satisfactory Plus" in being neat and clean in appearance, in listening to and following directions, and in completing projects.  A star in early mathematics, reading and writing,  I fell short in showing an interest in singing.

My teachers in the elementary school years would use descriptors such as "Concientious,"  "Extremely Responsible," and "too outspoken." (You don't fit in well in within the Ultra-Orthodox community if you speak your mind and color outside the lines.)

Flash forward, two months ago:  I gave Raphaela's head nursery teacher a form required by the HMO, in order for Raphaela to receive a consultation through their Early Childhood Development Center.  The form was returned to me only yesterday, and I feared reading it, hearing the "truth" about my daughter.

Ultimately, other than the issue of her late walking, my child seems to have friends, play well with others, listen to her teachers, show compassion and warmth, and posseses both fine motor and gross motor skills.  The head nursery teacher commented that Raphaela is [THANK G-D] a happy, smiling  and independent child, clean and "well-cared for by her mother."  She likes singing and music.


While Raphaela does not have a consistant father figure in her life due to the circumstances of her conception, I did not have a reliable father figure in my childhood due to a messy divorce and a general lack of strong male role models.  Perhaps therein lies the difference;  I will continue to provide stability and infinite affection to Raphaela, so that she can continue to play well with others and experience fulfilling personal relationships for the rest of her life.