Monday, December 31, 2012

(On the way to Gan today, as Raphaela watched me dole out some kibble to the street cats we feed every morning)

Raphaela:  You are an Animal Rescuer!
Mommy:  Sort of.  But I don't have a Magic Bag like Diego.
R:  You have a back pack like Dora.
M:  Yes.
R:  And we go on hikes and trips together.
M:  Yes.
R:  And we see animals on our trips!
M:  Yes we do.

Then Raphaela smiled and squeezed my hand tight.

A Woman of Valour

It has been quite a while since I came across a story of a woman of immense power and conviction, someone who inspired me to aim higher and do better.

Rita Levi-Montalcini, born in 1909 to a Jewish Italian family leaves me in awe, jaw dropped all the way to the floor.  She died yesterday at the age of 103, and her obituary states that she was active physically, intellectually and professionally until close to her last breath.  Her impressive life resume includes:

At the age of 20, in defiance of her family and their belief that woman should not pursue an advanced education,  she became a doctor and a surgeon.

When the Nazis barred Jewish academics, she continued her studies in cell structures and genetics in secret, risking her life to obtain the supplies she needed and working out of her bedroom in a makeshift lab.

In 1943 her family fled went underground and fled, and after the war she worked as a doctor in a center for refugees.

She received a Nobel Prize in 1986 for research that increased the understanding of the body's repair and memory systems.

In 2001 Levi-Montalcini was honored by Italy, naming her a senator-for-life.

The one thing her obituary fails to mention is children and surviving family.  A preeminent biologist with intimate knowledge of the human body who never experienced pregnancy or the joys and trials of motherhood.  Did she achieve all this at the expense of a personal life?  It leaves me wondering if she was happy in the end, if her accomplishments, fame and longevity made that sacrifice worthwhile.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gan 2013-14

When I was pregnant, I received all sorts of advice from all sorts of people, mostly along the lines of "You won't sleep for the next 18 years, until they go into the army, and then you definitely won't sleep."  While I have found the sleep thing to be true thus far, I would advise future parents that the early childhood care-taking situation and his/her education will not just keep you awake at night, but will make you want to cry.

Last year I erroneously allowed myself to get trapped in three months worth of list making and obsessive thoughts regarding Gan;  I have promised myself that this year the process will be quick and clean and simple.  I am looking for a place that is close to the house, has a good reputation among local parents, feels light and spacious, and has services until approximately four in the afternoon.  This morning before work I wandered up and down throughout my neighborhood, checked out four different nursery schools and now have options in my head with which I am comfortable and basically happy.

The big question mark remains the reformation from the Jerusalem Municipality, changes in the afternoon schedule that begin in February 2013:  the price of the two to four pm time slot ("Tzaharon") will decrease dramatically, and they promise what they call a "hot meal"  every day.  The Municipality however refuses to reveal the intended menus, and Raphaela's lunch may well become a sandwich and perhaps a hot vegetable, as opposed to the fully hot and protein filled lunches she currently receives.

From the moment of her birth, my daughter has been an "Eater," and a sandwich will simply not be enough to get her through the day.

So I've made my list, I will check it twice. I would like to think that it is a sign of my maturity and increasing experience as an Israeli parent, this new sense of calm and acceptance.  Either that, or I am simply a naive American who made aliyah 16 years ago, and wishes to believe that it has to work out for the best.

Land of the Luddites

For the past two weeks my desk top computer has been non-functional, a reflection of its age, almost eight years old;  when I tell those better versed in modern tech that I just replaced it now, they are gobsmacked, and can't believe that I trusted my clinic data to a machine that by all rights died along with the dinosaurs.

During this last two weeks, before I finally broke and ordered a new super-speedy super-quiet and all around pleasure-to-work-with new computer, I recorded my office data by hand, and checked email on my iPad only  when absolutely necessary.  Turns out, I wasn't missing much in terms of information, and in fact it freed up much of my evening and gave the time and attention back to me and Raphaela, because I wasn't sitting in front of the screen.  Much to my surprise, I survived this lack of access to the Internet, and even went to bed earlier than usual.

In college at Barnard, computers and automated systems were so simple and mostly unguarded by passwords and sophisticated programs, and so it was easy enough to hack, an activity in which my friends and I dabbled.  Today the technology has evolved faster than the blink of an eye, and I can barely use my phone without knowing that my three year old understands it and utilizes it better than I, me with my generational genetic flaw.

I have felt this way about Internet dating for a while now and my brief computer-less experience only reinforces my belief:  technology, while it may contribute to the overall efficiency of the business of globalization , it is not so slowly corrupting the essential experience of the human race. 

We have forgotten how to sit in a room with people we don't know, introduce ourselves and over the long term become friends, and maybe even lovers. 

We have forgotten that people deserve time and space to consider a contract, even if you just sent it by fax or email. 

Classic grammar and spelling is shot to hell.

We have let ourselves become accessible to anyone from anywhere in the world, 24 hours per day, and created an illness for the 21rst century called "Adrenal Overload Syndrome"; our body physically and emotionally does not have enough hours of sleep in order to repair and recover, causing an increase in all sorts of cancers and the eventual collapse of entire organ systems.

Families sit in the same house, separated and isolated, this one texting on the phone, this one checking email, this one watching television.  The concept of going outside to take a walk together or ride a bike down the street has vanished, to be replaced by childhood obesity, increases in ADHD and spectrum Autism and horrific posture.

I appeal to you, my readers and all inhabitants of Gaea:  shut off your phone and your computer, go play outside with someone you love.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Social Secretary

I was never a member of the popular clique in school, I was one of the shy and intellectual kids who studied all the time and dreamed of being invited to one of the mysterious and magical cool people party.  I have always been happy with two or three close friends, and prefer entertaining in small more intimate settings.

My daughter amazingly has been blessed with sociability to the extreme, she is the "It Girl" at her Gan, and frankly, the thought of it makes me giddy.  Lately she has been receiving invitations for play dates, and I am having a hard time juggling her schedule; popularity can be exhausting!

(Sometimes all I want to do at the end of the day is get into pajamas and chill out with Raphaela, that's the comfortable introvert in me.) 

Because she is an only child, I will continue to encourage her to seek out healthy friendships and learn the art of hostess-ing.  It is the least I can give her, in my quest to help Raphaela fulfill her happiness potential.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

When I was pregnant with Raphaela, I gained a total of five kilo, thanks to the fact that I could not keep most food down for the first four months, and the fact that up until two weeks before her birth, I was running for exercise at least four days per week.

One of the few foods that gave me comfort was Aroma's winter Orange Soup, with some warm whole wheat bread and butter. (While Raphaela grew inside me, she also blessed me with the temporary capacity to enjoy dairy products.) I loved that meal so much that I tried to reproduce the recipe at home.

Today, in between errands, I relived that little piece of memory, sitting at the Aroma Cafe in Jerusalem, with their Orange Soup warming me from the inside out.  The winter cold here seeps into your bones, and a serious warm bowl helps to relieve that sensation of perpetual shivering.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Spirit of the Season

I woke up this morning, infused with the spirit of Christmas.  I don't by any means plan on getting a tree and placing it in my living room, but I must admit that looking at the calendar and observing the date, December 24th ie "Erev Christmas", I burst into song.

All morning Raphaela and I have been more buoyant and affectionate than usual, and I like it.  My thoughts at the moment have returned me to my childhood in New York: the cartoon television specials, playing in the snow for hours without noticing the cold, school vacation, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, the abundance of decoration and cheer in the windows of the department stores.

New Yorkers, usually a surly fast-walking lot, smile more between Christmas and January 1,  and wish each other a "Happy Holiday" with no particular ulterior motive in mind.

Christmas barely registers in Israel, and ultimately, that is why I choose to live here and raise my daughter here, but I am thankful nonetheless for my American upbringing.

Since returning from the States three weeks ago, I have been feeling like I am in a holding pattern, neither happy nor sad, not particularly motivated to fill every minute of my day with some errand or work in the clinic.  I feel like I am waiting for something, or someone, and today is the first day I am light inside, and open to the idea of a wonderful new development in my life.
(On Shabbat, while playing)
Mommy: I love you as big as Space!
Raphaela: I love you as big as Love!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's the End of the World As We Know It

(I bet that song is running through your head now...)

So to celebrate the last day on the Earth, at least according to the Mayan calendar, I dropped Raphaela off at Gan and then parked myself at a lovely table at my favorite bakery in Jerusalem, ordered a cup of coffee and a danish, and read the newspaper before starting work in the clinic.

In case the Mayans - who, it must be pointed out, did not manage to forsee their own extinction - were correct, thanks for reading my blog!  ;-)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Israeli Politics

Among the multitude of political parties on the slate for January 2013's Israeli elections, two parties not only have no women on their list, but have no intention of placing women on their list, not even in a symbolic location (120/120).  I will not name these two parties, but I will give you a hint:  they treat women and anyone else as second and third class citizens, they leech from the government and spit on the modern State of Israel; and they justify their abhorrent behaviour saying that essentially, God likes them better because they are Ultra Orthodox,and therefore they have a divine right to treat other humans like garbage, even their own wives and mothers and sisters and daughters. 

Today some enraged Israeli citizens, feminist and otherwise, filed a suit to disqualify these two parties from the general election in January.  When asked to explain themselves, Shas and Yahadut Hatorah (oops, I told...)  replied that in denying the women of their movement a voice, they are following the Torah!  "In the halacha, men have certain roles and women have a different role."

The bulls**t meter is reading high on this one.

Unfortunately, living in Israel has jaded me against the general behaviour of the Ultra Orthodox community, and just this morning, a patient and I - both tolerant and modern Orthodox women -had a conversation on the topic, in which we agreed:  the Ultra Orthodox have as much right as anyone else to move into a neighborhood and expect certain services ie take it over and push out anyone not like you.  But as a citizen of Israel and the world, be a Mensch;  serve in the army, pay taxes on legitimate work instead of the grey market, support the government instead of cursing its existence and throwing stones at Israeli policemen.

These Ultra-Orthodox parties claim racism and bias, that the 'white folk' treat them unfairly.  As one of their so-called second class and a Barnard College graduate, I can say with assurance that the reception they receive is equally proportional to their actions.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Modern Medicine

"I have a stomach ache, I need Hershey's Kisses to help me feel better." said Dr. Raphaela, on the way home from Gan today.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Eighth Night, Eighth Light


Last night, in honor of both the last night of Chanukah and a birthday, my friend invited us to his and his wife's house down the street for a casual Saturday evening celebration.  Having been unable to find a baby sitter, I decided that rather than pass up this social opportunity, I would break routine for Raphaela, bring her with me to the party (in her pajamas), and let her stay up later than usual.

When we arrived, we were the only mother-toddler in the room, and for the most part, most of the guests were female, younger and my age range, married and single, pregnant and not pregnant.  Inevitably - and not by my initiation by any means - the discussion turned to the pressure in Israel on women to have children, and the stress for "older" women in terms of fertility, which in this country means over the age of 35.

Several of the women asked me, "How do you do it, a single working mother with no real family as a back-up system on this continent?"  My answer, "I have become an amazingly efficient multi-tasker and I don't get much sleep."  I imagine that description fits most mothers of a three year old.

Several of the woman around my age asked me if Raphaela feels less-than by the other children around her because she does not have a father active in her life, and I replied that as far as I know, it has not come up in conversation for her.  In fact, several of the children in her Gan are the product of a single mother by choice, and "as long as the check clears," the Gan staff treat my daughter no differently than any other kid.

As far as insensitivity, based upon the reactions of most of the women in the room, tactlessness abounds, and it doesn't matter whether or not you are attached to a man.  I still think that my story wins ie the matchmaker who recently called me to suggest a first date, and without blinking said, "He wants children, I assume you froze your eggs, right? Unless that information is too personal..."

Raphaela has only recently begun to ask me on a consistent basis, "Where is my father," and before I have a chance to answer her, she has moved onto another topic, usually Diego the Animal Rescuer, her current crush.

As the only person under the age of 30 in the room, Raphaela received lots of attention and ate way too many snacks, and around ten pm I tried to put her down for a nap in my friend's guest room.  My daughter, however, gets super-stimulated by social situations, and so I regrettably put on our jackets and went home.  I could have stayed several hours more, surrounded by a fun and adult environment.

One woman my age, a person whom I admire for planning the most amazing single parties which I cannot usually attend, asked me privately as we were on our way to the door, "Really, how are you doing?"  I told her that in times like this, when I must choose between putting Raphaela to bed and playing with my friends, I tend to get a little sad and resentful, because I know that I need the company to maintain my own sanity.  But do I regret the fertility treatments and the birth of my child? "Not for a moment."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

LIttle Pitchers, Big Ears

This morning I asked Raphaela to brush her teeth.  She looked at me, wagged her finger and said very sternly, "Not now, I'm VERY busy!"

Wow, I have to watch not just what I say, but how I say it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

This morning one of my errands included the pet store, a business owned and run by an extremely sweet and handsome Israeli man;  we briefly dated years ago, until he became more religious, and we remain friends.  (I seem to have that effect on men I date; inspired by me, they become more observant than me and thus become "not my type anymore.")

I asked him whether he was enjoying himself this Chanukah and he sighed, explaining that he had no one with whom to celebrate the holiday, and thus he found it uneventful and lonely.

There is nothing I have enjoyed more this year than sitting with Raphaela, snuggling, and watching the candles quietly burn, and listening to this friend, I appreciate it even more.  And so I invited him to join us one evening, though I don't know if he will accept the offer.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Increadible Edible Mouse

For most of the eight days of Chanukah, Raphaela thankfully has full schedule at Gan, but today she had vacation, and so I planned a full and fun day.

 To truly qualify as vacation, Raphaela and I slept in, if 6:30 am counts as sleeping late.  Then we spent most of the morning at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, first observing the animals for real that we have come to know and love through Dora and Diego.  Raphaela eagerly jumped from area to area, naming them all: Tapir! Peeing Cotton Top Tamarin monkeys! Iguana! Crocodiles large and small! Elephants! Tigress! Linda the llama!

A large eagle in the aviary sat on the rock right next to us, chirping away, and a lemur practically walked up to me and tried to jump onto my head.

Toward the end of our visit, Raphaela and I participated in a special zoo Chanukah activity, with sugar dough.  Together we constructed a totally edible candy mouse, and after very clear instruction, I told Raphaela that when she felt ready, she was allowed to eat her creation.  It almost sounded like cannibalism, the way she gleefully planned  the eating of the various mouse body parts, though I could tell that Raphaela harbored a certain level of hesitation about consuming her newest friend.

The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying the warm Chanukah weather, and I treated Raphaela to a mini-manicure.

It took several hours, and my daughter ate the tail and the ears of the candy mouse, and then she cradled him, placed the rest of him carefully on a plate, and tucked the mouse into bed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Overheard, as Raphaela was talking on the phone with her cousin in Silver Spring:

RR:  A great miracle happened HERE!
Cousin N: No, a great miracle happened THERE!

Holiday Friends

Living in Jerusalem, I most happily report the absence of Black Friday type sales and Christmas related mega-marketing.  When we visited the States, however, Raphaela had a very different experience of the holiday season.

Not a materialistic girl by nature, whatever store we entered, she immediately fell into the "Buy me/Get me" routine that I can remember from my own childhood.  I myself do not enjoy shopping per se, and so we entered as few stores as possible. And when we were besieged by Christmas paraphernalia, Raphaela would ask me, "Where is Santa?"

Allow me to explain:  both Dora the Explorer and Diego have holiday themed shows, which then get translated into Hebrew for the Israeli audience.  Halloween becomes Purim, and Christmas becomes Chanukah.  But for Raphaela, Santa does not represent Christmas, she does not even know or understand the meaning of the term;  the jolly old man dressed in red represents a friend of her friends -Dora and Diego - and he is a man who helps the animals and comforts people with presents of food and hugs.

My parents, who could not fathom why my daughter growing up in a Jewish country knew of Santa, cringed every time she mentioned him, and I continually explained the innocent context until they backed down.

Then I reminded them of this story from my youngest brother, who for some odd reason received a Santa Clause doll from one of our cousins: around Raphaela's age, my brother became so attached to the toy, that my parents could not take it away from him.  Instead, because of the white beard, my brother and I renamed the doll "Rabbi Santa," and it became a fixture in the toy chest for many years.

There is room for all this holiday season, and I would rather complain that Chanukah jelly doughnuts appear rather early in the Israeli supermarkets, as opposed to the crazed run-over-your-neighbor-for-an-xbox events in the American stores.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Keeping Children Out of Harm's Way

This morning in Raphaela's Gan, as we were walking in the door (late again, because of jet lag...) I observed a scene between two of the children fighting over a puzzle. The boy slapped the girl in the face and then moved to the other side of the table, with the puzzle, and the girl put her head on the table and started crying.  The teacher had not seen the beginning of the event, and assumed that the girl was crying because she could not share the toy, and as the teacher opened her mouth to chastise her, I could not help myself and whispered quietly, "She is crying because he hit her and then took the puzzle away from her."

The teacher then had to revise her intended actions, and began the negotiations of the boy apologizing to the girl, and the girl getting cuddles and reassurance.

I can't help myself, really, especially if I see injustice being done to a child.

I received a phone call yesterday which challenged this personality flaw even further.  Ten years ago, after much internal deliberation, I reported a female patient of mine to Israeli Social Services, because I had the proof I needed that she suffered from Munchhausen by Proxy, that she was injuring at least two of her children because of this bizarre and sad disease.  I reported her with the proviso that the patient not be told who summoned Social Services, because I could not trust this woman to behave in a rational way if she had found out that I was the informant.

Unfortunately, the Social and Child Protection Services in this country lack the resources to take proper and long term action.  They sent an inexperienced social worker over to the house, who after a short interview, came to the conclusion that the children of the household were not susceptible to any immediate and severe danger to their physical or emotional health, and did not need to be removed from the home.

Shortly after, I told this patient that I felt I could not provide the Chiropractic care she truly needed, and referred her out to a colleague.

Yesterday she called me for the first time since the incident, asking if she could return to me as a patient, and I felt severely conflicted.  It was clear even from her speech on the phone that she continues to behave in an irrational way as regards her health, and that her paranoia is alive and well as regards the world at large.  Clearly I cannot treat her with an open mind and heart, and I don't know how to explain this to her without arising anger on her part.

She suffers from a serious mental disorder, and if she chooses not to get help for herself, Gesundheit!  (as my great-grandmother used to say)  But I know that she hurt her children and her family, and that I cannot abide.