Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Jewish Child in Me

Communal Jewish tradition thrives best in an environment of families with kids. 

It has taken me many years to overcome the resentment I felt as a single person (without children), that feeling of being side-lined, left out, and not in on the private joke.  The exception to that experience being Barnard College, where Rabbi Chuck Sheer and the Columbia-Barnard Jewish community embraced students from all levels of Judaism;  and where my daily observance and the holidays were based upon joy (and great parties), rather than fear of the lightning bolt, or fear of being judged by others.

I understand this even more today, when I have a two and a half year old child.  I eagerly await Purim, which arrives next week, because I can picture Raphaela in her costume, singing songs and collecting candy and celebrating with family and her Gan friends.  I have developed a modern Purim tradition of my own, as a parent living in Israel:  the day after Halloween in the United States, I cruise online and buy Raphaela an amazing quality costume for 75% off the regular prices.  This year we will sport matching outfits, Supergirl and SuperMommy.

Pessach, the problematic food holiday at the beginning of April, has taken on much more significance for me, as it now represents an opportunity to sit with friends and extended family, tell the story of our slavery and redemption, and give my daughter the foundations of belonging to a people with a history.  In the past, I never enjoyed the academic competition, and the gloating afterwards of "Our family stayed awake reciting the Hagaddah until 3 am..."  The seder should be geared toward the wonderfully curious children in the group.

Raphaela still plays with the dreidel from Chanukah, and will occasionally sing the songs she has memorized from Gan, and from her Chanukah CD.

Through Raphaela's eyes, I re-experience the gift of wonderment of the world in which we live, and the Israeli-Jewish community which I chose 15 years ago as my home.

(As a child, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday of the year, because we all gathered at my grandparents, the entire extended family.  We ate straight through Thursday to Sunday, in between the Macy's Day Parade, the football games, the grandchildren poker games, and the annual argument of "What movie will we see at the mall this year".  It combines the best of thankful-ness in the American tradition, with a Shabbat family weekend.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Yesterday, in the car, Raphaela had a coughing fit, one of those typical Winter symptoms. 
She said to me, "Mommy, I am sick.  I need an IV."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Kid on the Block

My parents sent Raphaela a Tickle Me Elmo doll, it has delighted Raphaela no end, and Elmo has become another child in the house.  Elmo gets tucked in, needs a pacifier or wants Cheerios for breakfast; and it took much convincing this morning that Elmo does not have to go Gan with her.

"But he talks, Mommy!"  The logic of the argument almost had me persuaded.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wishing I Were Wrong

I have mentioned previously in various postings that there is a boy in Raphaela's class, Evan (name changed to protect the innocent)  who has tortured her and other children since the beginning of the year.  He is not a violent child, but rather undisciplined, with no sense of sharing or boundaries.  Very often, when I ask Raphaela with whom she played in Gan, she will give me the list of the 'good' kids, and then tell me that Evan pushed her, or hurt her finger, or took away her food during lunch.

This past Shabbat, Raphaela fell in the house and started crying, blaming Evan for her fall.  I immediately pointed out that there were no other children in the nearest vicinity, and that she could not blame Evan for the fact that she was tired and needed an afternoon nap.  For me, one of the most important adult skills I can teach my daughter is that of taking responsibility for your own choices and actions, and that means not blaming a kid who isn't there, even if he bullies her at school during the week.

Other parents have mentioned similar stories to me about Evan, and one of the mothers said, "I don't understand it, his parents are such sweet people..."  We cannot know what happens in their house, and why this boy behaves this way; I try not to judge and rather believe that every child starts out with goodness, and every parent starts out with good intentions.

 I complained at one point to the Head Nursery Teacher, pointing out that there should not be a "villain" in a group of two year olds, and the teacher said that his behaviour is "normal" for his age and his status as an only child.  I thought to myself, that thank G-d only out of 17 toddlers was acting "normally."  I do know, however, that Raphaela does not hit other children or terrorize them, and she is an only child as well, so the explanation doesn't quite wash.

Yesterday, Raphaela brought one of her favorite books to Gan, despite my objections.  As soon as we arrived, I asked one of her teachers to please put the book aside, in her drawer, as soon as possible, so it would not go missing.  At the end of the day, the book was no where to be found, and when I reluctantly searched the drawers of all the other children, I not surprisingly found it in Evan's drawer; muttering under my breath about "Little Mr. No Impulse Control."  As soon as I saw it, mangled in his cubby, I wished I had been wrong in my assumption.

I would like to give Evan the benefit of the doubt, and conjecture that the book arrived there accidentally. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Snow Day

Tomorrow, Shabbat February the 18th, will mark the 11th year anniversary of my almost being killed by a Palestinian sniper on the Tunnel Road, on the way home from work.

I am grateful to be alive, and for the life with which I have been blessed, warts and all.  I never quite imagined that the small moments with my child would give me so much satisfaction and joy.  For example, yesterday, I heard Raphaela opening kitchen cabinets and emptying the contents, and then banging together G-d knows what.  From the other room I said, "Raphaela, what is that cacophony?"  She answered sweetly, "That's not noise, it's music!"  I could not help but smile.

To celebrate this day, Raphaela and I will hopefully be able to play in the snow in Jerusalem, though I harbour skepticism regarding the accuracy of the weather reports.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Approximately one month ago, I had a frank and private discussion with the CFO of my daughter's Gan, explaining that I loved the place and the security it gave both me and Raphaela, and that I would be hard pressed to continue on next year, if they increased their prices again.  A Montissouri education is worth the money yes, but there is a limit to what is reasonable given my budget.

He said that he was glad I felt comfortable enough to speak to him, and that he would have a considered answer for me and all the parents in the Gan.

Yesterday I received an email with the monthly news letter -always fun and informative- and at the end of the message, they reminded parents that registration would be taking place, granting current students priority placement.  The price, he continued, would be raised by approximately 150 NIS;  he then added that single parents would not have to pay the new amount, and could continue with this year's tuition fees.

True, a private gan must respond to the competition, which heated up for the Fall with the recent law making Israeli public nurseries even cheaper.  But they are decent and honest people, people who run their Gan with love and care and quality; this gesture on their part for single parents (SMBC, divorced or otherwise) should be rewarded.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Little and Amazing Things

We adults can perform most basic life skills, on any given day, for example:  driving safely, opening a lock with a key, reading a book or the newspaper, and jumping.  That's right, the act of bending your knees, doing the wind up and hip wiggle to engage intertia, and then jumping;  we don't even think about it.  We forget as functional grown-ups that our brain had to learn how to do all these things we take for granted.

After months of practicing and looking awkward, Raphaela surprised me tonight at her swim lesson, when she executed a perfect feet-first jump into the water.  She touched the bottom of the pool and was so exhilarated that she continued jumping for another 20 minutes, emerging each time with the hugest smile on her face.

CANNON BALL! (Picture giant splash here) 

I knew exactly how she felt; I still remember the first time I performed a perfect dive, head down and body streamline, that sense of time standing still as you glide through the water like a dolphin.  That serenity at being suspended and weightless, as if you were floating in space. That joy is the reason I swim and scuba dive even today.

As a mother, I could not feel any more proud.  As a Chiropractor and a scientist, I am endlessly fascinated watching my daughter's brain evolve right in front of my eyes, observing her learning process as she acquires new skills.

She has recently cemented Hebrew as a first language, when she started a sentence, "EMM [the Israeli equivalent of "Um" or "like" in America], I want some waffles for breakfast please."  The fact that my two and a half  year old is bi-lingual, that her brain flows naturally between two completely distinct languages, blows me away.

(Yep, I am a science geek.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Un-learning Old Tricks

I have been suffering since Friday with a splitting headache and nausea, and quite frankly, I am not equipped to deal.  As the daughter of a Chiropractor, and as a Chiropractor myself, I have had two headaches my entire life, (no joke!) and have never stocked any over-the-counter medications in the house.

I spent much of the weekend taking care of Raphaela despite the shooting pain, but it made me tired, and today when I picked up Raphaela from Gan, several of the parents asked me, "Are you alright?"  Apparently, I am not looking my best at the moment  My doctor has suggested that my recent forray into training for the Jerusalem Marathon might have brought on these symptoms.

One of the parents became cross, and asked me why I hadn't reached out for help from other parents in the Gan, even to take Raphaela out of the house for a few hours, to play with other children who are not Mommy, the perpetual playmate.  Of course she is right, there is a world of resources that I have mostly forgotten, because I am so used to doing everything myself.  I must remember that requesting assistance is one of the most important life skills, that it will keep me sane and healthy for many years.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Valentines Day, Bah Humbug

This year, Israel has fully embraced Valentines Day, the malls are festooned with red heart shaped paraphernalia and I have turned into the Grinch.

Let me state unequivocally that my objections are not based upon my status as a single person, currently uninvolved with a partner.

Valentines Day is a holiday created and sponsored by Hallmark, candy makers and flower sellers.  Valentines Day mocks any unattached male or female, and says "Ha ha, NO ONE  will be sending you a mushy card, NO ONE will be buying you flowers or planning a romantic dinner.  You are not getting special Valentines Day Sex tonight, ha ha."

I do not enjoy feeling excluded.  We all, all of us human beings on the planet, deserve to feel loved, every day of the year.

Bah Humbug...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Twiddling My Thumbs

Very often, when Raphaela has a play date with a friend, the attendees are the two mothers, and the two children.  If I ask Raphaela, "Where is so-and-so's Daddy?" she knows to answer that he is "at work."

At this age, children continue to believe that their mother's world, and the Universe at large, revolves around them, and that idea began to disturb the Barnard feminist in me.  I do not want Raphaela thinking that from the time I drop her off at Gan to the time I pick her up in the afternoon I sit in the house, twiddling my thumbs, while I think about her and how to please her.  Just as she is asserting her independence and defining a separate identity, I want her to grow up knowing that if a woman wants to work, she can; and furthermore, that a woman as much as a man can excell in their chosen field,  be happy in their chosen field, and not feel guilty thinking they are somehow neglecting their family by not choosing to be a stay at home Mom.   Being a mother is a full-time job in itself, and I admire women who take that route and do not lose their sense of self, or their sanity.

I also want to Raphaela to embrace her future of infinite options, and be confident that she can succeed.

So we play in my Chiropractic treatment room, and I have taught Raphaela that this is my office, where I help people as a "Spine Doctor."  (Chiropractic seems like too ambitious a word for the moment.)  When I drop her off at Gan, I give her a kiss and tell her that she while she enjoys her day with her friends, I am going to enjoy my day at work.

And if Raphaela is lucky enough as she becomes an adult to not need a job in order to pay the bills, I hope that she has the drive and committment to follow her passion to the fullest regardless, wherever her strengths may manifest.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

IVF and the American Embassy

An article in this weekend's Haaretz reported that the "American embassy and consular officials in Israel are requiring applicants seeking US citizenship for their children to prove parentage in cases where they received fertility treatments."  This bureaucratic nightmare has afflicted both single mothers and married women, and the demands of proof of genetic parentage are almost impossible, as in many cases of sperm and egg donation, the donor remains anonymous.

Ellie Lavi, an American-born JSMBC  who started the organization "&baby makes two," stated that when she went to acquire citizenship for her twins, experienced the following:  "The interviewing officer asked me over a microphone, 'Are these your eggs?'...I was absolutely stunned, humiliated."  The Embassy and US State Department claims that their policy and approach has not changed at all over the years, but rather, Israel as one of the leading countries on the planet in fertility technology, accentuates the issue.

Raphaela has American citizenship since the age of five months, and I remember that the experience was at the very least tiring and infuriating; at a certain point they sent me over to a psychologist, so the woman could asses my veracity and reactions, to make sure I was not a crazy women claiming to be a single mother, using someone else's baby.  If I would have had to provide proof of my fertility treatments, her application would have been refused, as I signed a legal non-disclosure agreement with Hadassah Hospital and the sperm bank.

I find it disturbing that both secular international government offices and the Israeli Rabbinate are trying to link "true" identity, halachic or otherwise, to genetic material rather than to the woman who carried the child for nine months and will raise him/her for the rest of their lives.  With all the cutting edge developments in fertility, the societal aspect of pregnancy and birth is taking several million steps backward.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Repetative Stress

Born in New York, moved to New Jersey, moved to Boston at the start of high school, moved back to New York for Barnard College (with a semester abroad in between), moved to Toronto for Chiropractic graduate school, moved back to Boston for a while, made aliyah in 1997, moved seven times in the last 14 years within Jerusalem, essentially within the same neighborhood.

Story of my life, of all the things I could possibly request from Universe it would be stability, a place that I can call home and that I can be 20 years from now.  Apparently that is not meant to be.  When I close my eyes at night, I have no fond memories of a secure homestead, a sanctuary.

I moved from my previous apartment for many reason, one of them the negative effect of years of on-and-off drill-into-your-brain constuction.  Raphaela has been so scarred by those events that even now, if we are walking down the street and a large truck lumbers by, or a motorcycle or she hears minor driling in someone else's house, she gets a look of absolute panic on her face, runs over to me and generally starts shaking and crying.  If for nothing else in her life, she will need therapy to get over that trauma, and it breaks my heart.

Last night at the meeting of the residents of the building, they started discussion regarding a new Israeli law, TMA 38, which allows contractors to earthquake-proof 80% of the buildings in the country.  In exchange, these same contractors get the rights to the roof and may add on up to two floors of apartments, which they sell privately at a profit.  If 60% of the residents of our building agree to the building, Raphaela and I are once again at Ground Zero of Hell, and I cannot go through that again.

So I will have to move, again, with no real guarantee that a new place will not initiate the same exact plan in the future.  I am tired of feeling like a nomad, of living with the uncertainty of the basic rights in my life, that of a roof over my head and some peace and quiet.  I wish I could afford to buy a place that I could call my own, and not be at the mercy of a landlord, not matter how wonderful and accomodating they are.  I want to grab onto the long term with joy rather than trepidation.