Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Jupiter Symphony

Raphaela's obsession for the last month has been classical music and the philharmonic.  She can now name most instruments on her own, and identify them by sound as part of a musical piece without seeing them.  "Look Mommy, a Bassoon!" she will say in her little girl's voice, as we are driving in the car, as the radio is now permanently set to the Israeli classical music station, rather than my preferred classic rock station.

This morning on the way to Gan, the featured musical piece happened to be Mozart's Jupiter Symphony, that masterpiece that was the soundtrack of my college years at Barnard/Columbia.  It was the music that programmed information into my brain when I studied for every exam, and I kept it on in the background while a group of us simply hung out together.  This symphony is forever burned into the hard drive of my cortex.

When I heard it on the radio this morning, it suddenly brought back a flood of memories, of my amazing college friends with whom I am close to this day; of the adventures we had getting lost on the subway and ending up in Conney Island at midnight; of the time spent exploring our true selves away from our families and out of the house; of shopping and late-night movies and food runs and pool games;  the boyfriends, lots of them and lots to choose from;  hacking into the ROLM system ("Fred, you and the Little Mermaid..."); of Ultimate Frisbee and Monty Python Marathons; of the professors who challenged me and opened my mind to a world of art and music and philosophy; of the only time in my life when I felt truly connected spiritually and religiously to a Jewish community which accepted  all with joy and without judgement.

My best friend from college married her high school sweetheart, I was the Maid of Honor at her beautiful wedding on the beach at sunset.  They have three children together and they bought a house in Long Island, right near her parents and his parents.  He is a successful lawyer, she runs her own graphic design business, as well as being highly involved in the PTA. 

She is living that life I always imagined I would have at this age.

I would experience all this suburbia of course after I had seen myself becoming President of the United States and saving Israel from itself. (Poli Sci major, naturally...) After all that I have gladly given up to live in Israel, that picture of the husband, the large back yard and being surrounded by nature and quiet at the end of the day; that vision remains in my head and I cannot seem to give it up, no matter how far away or unrealistic it seems. I want that for myself, and I want that for Raphaela, a sense of open space and privacy and freedom to choose.

And I miss for myself being surrounded by a group of people who challenge me intellectually and personally, who love and support me in this search for the essential Me to tell me when I have strayed off the path and when I have succeeded.

Hearing that music on the radio this morning, I burst into tears, and then my memories and imagination took me back to the concert at the majestic and almost overwhelming Lincoln Center concert with my friend David, showcasing Mozart's Symphony No. 40 and No. 41, my Jupiter Symphony. That sweet mixture of notes and instruments, the conversation and negotiation they have until the last movement, when they blend into a perfect melody and announce their harmony with strength and passion.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Day Six

After six days at home, Raphaela has finally returned to Gan, fever free.
I continue to feel nauseous, hoarse and feverish, and have canceled much of my life so I can get over this virus from Hell.
You will have to excuse me if I don't elaborate, I barely have the strength to sit in front of the computer, and last night officially hit the nervous breakdown zone.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sharing Germs

Tuesday:  I pick up Raphaela from Gan and her cheeks are bright red.  I assume that she has had an allergic reaction to some food she ate, and apply baby oil to her face after her bath.

Wednesday:  Gan calls me in the middle of the work day, Raphaela is "not herself" and complains of unspecified pains;  with a mild fever, they suggest that I arrive immediately and take her home.  I cancel my afternoon patient load, rush over to find Raphaela napping peacefully.  Her nursery teacher tells me that "it seems to have passed."

Somewhere between Wednesday and Thursday, in the middle of the night:  I am suffering from stomach cramping and diarrhea, Raphaela has developed a serious fever and comes into my bed whimpering.

Thursday:  I cancel my patient load, a meeting I had scheduled, and decide that it is less important to go grocery shopping before Shabbat this week.  Raphaela and I hang out at home, taking naps and eating very little.  Her mood improves during the day, but the fever goes up and down.  We join Harry, who has been grounded inside the house the entire week because of a leg sprain.

I have no idea if I will get anything done tomorrow either.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Jerusalem Ethos

From an article about the Jerusalem Marathon in Haaretz by Yair Ettinger:   "[It's h]ard to get used to the inspiring and moving sight of men and women fighting the forces of nature, still trying to reach the finishing line six hours after the Marathon started...Jerusalemites cheer you on with cries of 'Bravo!' and 'Well done!'  While in Tel Aviv they cheer you on by saying, 'Go on, faster!'"

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jerusalem Marathon 2012

Raphaela's Gan is located so close to Gan Saccher and the start of the Jerusalem Marathon, that they requested this year that parents who did not need to take their children out of the house should stay home, as access to the Gan would be exceptionally limited for both staff and the Gan families.  I had planned on running, and originally thought about Gan as an alternative to baby sitting, but in the end, left Raphaela in a prolonged play date with a friend.  So before I even walked to check-in at Gan Saccher, I put my daughter in a stroller and took her over to her friend's house.

I almost canceled my participation this year, because this morning, and in fact throughout the day, we had the worst weather in Jerusalem:  driving winds, heavy rains and at certain points (including during my run), hail stones.  I believe that G-d's Ministry of Weather has a bit of a sadistic side...

The pre-race atmosphere at Gan Saccher was inspiring, and because this international event was being held in the capitol of the Jewish country, one of the event tents included a synagogue.  There were musicians and street performers, warm-up seminars and a free coffee bar;  apparently (news to me!) a shot of caffeine helps your run.  Since I had chosen to run a mini-marathon (10K total), I was present when the first winners crossed the Finish Line.

I also met a fascinating group of people, including a woman from Norway who had come specifically to see Jerusalem and run the Marathon;  an elderly American man who had made aliyah 30 years ago, and was the last of his group of friends who continued to run and compete;  a woman and her two children from Ashkelon, who had fled the bombings and escaped to Jerusalem to feel more safe;  and a Russian security guard, himself a single parent and eager to share stories.

After getting my bum left knee taped, we walked to the Start Line, at the entrance of the Israel Museum and opposite the Knesset.  The area was jammed with competitors, but the DJ played amazing dance music, so you could not help but move your body while waiting.  As we counted down, and the hail resumed, I thought to myself, "why am I doing this?!"  But as soon as I got on the course, I felt a huge sense of pride in myself, and kept my mind busy by looking at the scenery and singing some of Raphaela's children songs in my head.

By the time I reached to the finish line, it seemed too short, the fun had ended too soon.  I walked home at least another 2 km to pick up Raphaela from her friend's house, and on the way home I bought myself a slice of pizza -desperately needed sugar - and a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Assertiveness Training

On Shabbat, Raphaela started playing around in a dangerous way while crossing the street; I dragged her out of traffic and to the sidewalk, chastised her because she does know better, and explained how dangerous the street and cars can be to little girls and big Mommies.  Angry at me for destroying her fun, she sat there for several minutes, quietly but with a scowl on her face.  Then she stood up, pointed her finger at me and said (in Hebrew), "Lo Naim Li!" [some version of "I am not happy with what just happened..."]

I told this anecdote to her nursery teacher today, and the teacher's surprising response was, "Thank Goodness!"  I asked her to clarify her reaction, and she explained (without providing specific names) that she and the rest of the staff had been concerned that Raphaela as one of the youngest in the group, was getting "bullied"(her word, not mine) by some of the other older children;  the staff felt that they must help Raphaela stand up for herself and teach her to be stronger, to defend herself from other children's attacks.  They have apparently been working on her assertiveness, and my story let them know that they had achieved their goal.

Out of trepidation and a bit of anxiety, I asked if she was still being bullied, and was assured that is "much less...much better."

On the one hand, I am grateful that Raphaela's teachers took the personal interest and the time to develop a 'program' and give my daughter the confidence she will need to function and succeed in an aggressive Israeli society.  On the other hand, as a mother, I feel that if there was some problem in this area, I should not have heard about it after the fact, I should have been informed earlier.

Truthfully, every time I have picked up Raphaela from Gan, she is clean and happy, plays with the other children and does not want to leave, and so I assumed that all was well.  I continue to trust the framework in which I leave her every morning, for an almost nine hour day, five days a week.

But this epiphany also explains Raphaela's less than optimal behaviour at home for a period of time at the beginning of 2012, and it shows me that my maternal instinct, my gut that all was not well proved correct;  that I must trust my inner voice especially when it comes to my daughter. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Crazy Neighbor Lady

When we moved into this new building in September, most the neighbors pretty much ignored our existence, and continue to do so.  Only one neighbor took a slight interest, an elderly woman whom we see in the early morning hours, as we are on our way to Gan and she starts her daily "constitutional."  Very often, she delights in Harry's "human" behaviour, and watches with glee as he goes into the elevator with her.

On Purim, we gave her Mishloach Manot, because she is a widow and all her children are in the States, and because it is nice to be remembered on the Jewish family-oriented holidays when you are alone.  I know that feeling more than most.

Yesterday, as Raphaela and I returned from the park, we saw this neighbor and Raphaela called her "Bubby," a term of endearment which she applies to any older looking woman.  I smiled and thought nothing of it.  About fifteen minutes later, as I was trying to put Raphaela to sleep, I hear manic ringing from the doorbell;  it is this neighbor, enraged, because Raphaela (a two and a half year old) has dared to call her "old."

"What impudence, for your daughter to assume that I am a grandmother!  I don't look old at all [she does], and when I go to America and take my grandchildren for a walk, people I assume I am their mother, not their grandmother!  [Right...] I don't understand why your daughter would say such an awful thing!"

My first thought was that the road to Hell was paved with good intentions, and I experienced a twinge of regret for having reached out to her.  Then I wanted to laugh, but held myself back, out of respect for her years of life experience, and the delusion that seems to manifest as humans age.  I remembered that my grandfather Z"L would change the age on his birthday cards, and he hovered around 47 for quite a few years; thinking that by replacing a number, no one would notice the truth.

Finally, I gathered myself and explained to her that Raphaela likes her and cares about her, and is always happy to see her in the hallway.  I continued to elaborate, complementing her on her choice of classical music [played very loud every day throughout the day, so she and the whole building can hear it, but she is not old...].  I asked if maybe some day, when Raphaela comes home from Gan, we could come to her house and visit, and she could teach Raphaela about music and instruments, and share with us the stories of her youth as a professional opera singer.

That seemed to placate the neighbor and she felt comfortable enough to ask me, "Where's the father? I assume he is around and not involved enough in your daughter's life."  I responded with a smile on my face, that there is no father in the picture, and that thank G-d we are doing well.   The neighbor returned home, satisfied with my response and her information gathering mission.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


What are your costumes?
Raphaela is SuperGirl, and I am SuperMommy.
Aren't you SuperMommy every day of the year?
Yes, but I only get to wear the cape in public on Purim!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Feud Continues

Shout out to my Alma Mater, Barnard College, for snagging President Barack Hussein Obama as a speaker.

Columbia University, brother o' mine, get over yourself.  As a result of our affiliation, your male students can take Women's Studies classes at Barnard and pick up girls/womyn;  your male students can live in our dormitories as we have the option of living "across the street"; and both institutions get the benefit of stellar academic staff and facilities.

It ain't an exclusive boy's club anymore, and thank G-d for that.

Countdown to Purim

This morning, when I was ready to get into the shower, Raphaela insisted that we sing Purim songs and dance together.  The light and joy in her eyes could not be denied.

Raphaela dresses up tomorrow for her Gan party, and on Thursday we will celebrate and feast with Savta Shira in Tekoa.  As well, Harry's tenth birthday falls out on Thursday this year, and Raphaela insists that Harry needs a party; she has already sung him the traditional birthday songs, tried to put a crown on his head, and has invited several of her Gan friends to commemorate the momentous feline event.  Harry will receive an extra serving of T-U-N-A and lots of attention from a group of toddlers.  

On Friday we Jerusalemites celebrate Shushan Purim, which means that the afternoon feast will bleed into  Friday night dinner.  I plan on serving an extremely light Shabbat lunch, I don't think my stomach can handle all this gluttony.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Diapers, The End is Near

Yesterday at Gan, for the first time ever, Raphaela asked to use the child-size toilet instead of soiling her diaper, and succeeded in her mission.

Today, at the request of her teachers, I brought her potty and some undies to Gan, so Raphaela could feel free to explore and refine this new skill.

I know we have a long way to go before she perfects her toilet training, but I could not be more proud or more happy at the news.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Seeds of the Future?

On Friday, for two brief hours, it snowed in Jerusalem, shutting down public transportation and Gan.  My cleaning lady stayed home as well, so I had that job this week.  By 10:30 am, the blue sky opened up over the city, and by 11 am, all of the snow had melted.  Having a whole morning to ourselves, Raphaela and I watched a performance of Brahms by the Israel Philharmonic, and she sat, mesmerised.

We also had a spirited discussion about Zubin Metha, and his similarity to her favorite musician, Mr. Harry Belafonte.

Afterwards, Raphaela informed me that when she is a big girl, she wants to play piano and be an orchestral conductor.  I asked what kind of music she would play, and she answered with confidence, "Sevivon!"  (The Hebrew Chanukah dreildel song)

When Raphaela was a baby, she was turning every possible object into a drum set, and her love of music has never surprised me.