Friday, December 27, 2013

Dr Jeckyll and Little Miss Hyde

Even as a baby, Raphaela always seemed to know that Friday was somehow different;  different schedule and special events on Shabbat, and she would behave (badly) accordingly.

Today after I picked her up from Gan, Raphaela was in a stellar mood, and in fact one of the most lovely children I have ever seen. She saved me a cookie from her Gan Shabbat party, and also got me a sticker, saying, "I love you so much Mommy and I love to give you Shabbat presents."

I wanted to pick her up in my arms and hug her as tight as I could, and thank the stars that I had the most generous and sweet little girl.

Then we walked to Palmach to do errands and her entire demeanor changed.  She became uncooperative to the point of throwing a tantrum, throwing her back pack on the side walk and making a general spectacle of herself.

Gritting my teeth and painting on a smile that said, "Sure, judge me for being a lousy mother. Just wait until you have a four year old, " we walked home; or rather I dragged her home as she cried for no apparent reason.

When I asked Raphaela why she was crying, she answered me all Exorcist style, in a perfectly clear and scarily rational voice, "Raphaela's not here right now, she has disappeared inside Baby Unicorn [her normally well-behaved alter ego].  Baby Unicorn  who wants to cry very loudly for no reason."

She then resumed crying and as we got close to the house, her perfectly rational/terrifying possessed voice said, "Baby Unicorn is very tired and will take a nap when we get home."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Makeup Game

Walking home from Gan today, Raphaela told me that she and some of her friends were talking about makeup, and applying  it as part of a pretend game.  Raphaela also informed me that one of them is not allowed to have makeup, because she is "too young."  (All of three and a half, as opposed to the rest of them who were all grown up at four.)

I don't remember thinking about makeup until high school, maybe, and perhaps I am more old-fashioned than I wish to admit, but it feels very early to have this conversation.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Walking to Gan this morning, small puddles of water and islands of ice remain on the street.  We passed by one particularly impressive pool of water and Raphaela, who usually grabs the opportunity, refused to jump and splash.

"Mommy, that a deep puddle." she said.  "Maybe it has worms inside, or piranhas, or jelly fish!"

Man in the House

My (newly engaged) youngest brother came to Israel for the last three weeks on a business trip.  We have always been very close despite the age difference, and though he spent the work weeks in Tel Aviv, he came to us in Jerusalem for the Shabbat weekends.

Raphaela connected to him immediately, and now that he has neared the end of his stay with us, I realize that my daughter learned certain things for the first time in her life, having a non-girl human being live with us.

At first, when my brother would expect privacy while on the toilet or while getting dressed, Raphaela became distressed and took the closed door as a personal insult.  I explained to her that just because she follows me everywhere (shower, bathroom, supermarket, garbage runs, nap time) does not mean that other people enjoy the same level of intimacy.  Trying to teach her the value of respecting other's wishes, I pointed out that if her uncle did not want her watching, he had every right, and she must wait with patience until he comes out of the guest room.

She gets it now, at least for people other than Mommy.

Then, this morning, she observed my brother placing Tefillin (phylacteries) while he prayed and seemed intrigued.  It hit me that she had never seen them before, and the three of us - my brother and I and Raphaela - had a lengthy discussion about Tefillin, what they represent and who wears them.  I explained that although I know certain very dedicated women who wear Tefillin on a regular basis, the practice is reserved mostly for Orthodox boys and men, over the age of 13.  Raphaela then made sure that she could still pray as she always does in Gan, and I reassured her that G-d listens to us wherever we are, whether it be synagogue or with Tefillin in the morning, or at home. 

She asked me if I pray on a regular basis, and I told her that I talk to G-d all day, throughout the day;  when I am working I ask G-d to help heal my patients, when I am driving I ask G-d to help me find a decent parking spot, and when I watch her sleep at night I ask G-d to keep Raphaela safe and healthy and happy.

Perhaps the most important lesson of my brother's visit is this:  Raphaela became so attached so quickly to my brother, and exhibited so much curiosity about the ways of men.  She could not stop talking to him at home, and about him in school, and was overjoyed when he took her to Gan one morning.  When I start dating, not just having fun but when it becomes serious with possible signs of long-term commitment, I will  be very careful as to when Raphaela meets this man who could become a new and key element of our lives.  For her sake, I cannot bring someone into the house, watch her connect and have him disappear.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gilligan's Island PTSD

This morning, half awake and half asleep, I turned over in bed to check the time, and noticed that my digital alarm clock was dead.  I immediately shot up and said, "S**t!  Another electrical shortage, I thought this was all behind us! I can't take this anymore..."

Then I grabbed my flashlight - which has sat next to my bed since the storm - and started roaming around the house, seeing if any other lights worked, it was pitch dark.  I went over to the electrical box and shut down the whole system and implemented a restart.

Went back to my bedroom only to realize that my alarm clock had been somehow unplugged, and that house was functioning properly.  There I was, wide awake at five am.

Snow Man RIP

Raphaela has brought home a lovely new phrase from Gan, "I am so hungry, if you don't give me food soon, I will die!" (And other similarly themed statements.)

Funny thing is, she has no real concept of Death.  We saw a dead cat on the road, run over by a car and squashed flat, and Raphaela said, "Mommy, that cat is broken.  You are a doctor, you can fix it."

Our recent snow experience seems to have brought home the concept, at least slightly.  Someone had built a snow man at the intersection above our street;  the snow man standing there as if he was waiting for the light to turn green.  When we first saw him he was tall and proud, and as the days have gotten warmer, he has melted into nothing but a small blob of dirty ice on the sidewalk.

This morning, Raphaela noticed this change and said, "Mommy, our snow man is getting smaller and smaller." I explained to her the concept of melting, and then added that soon the snow man will disappear, be no more than a memory from the storm.  After a moment of silence for his decline in health, we continued walking to Gan.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gilligan's Island, Day Seven

With Gan back in the routine, and the water and electricity staying stable so far (pthoo pthoo pthoo), and with no scheduled patients, I took the day to catch up on our home life.  Truth be told, I was supposed to attend a Chiropractic conference in Tel Aviv today, but the car is still a little stuck in ice, and the Jerusalem roads are far from safe.

I went to the bank and supermarket, so now we have actual healthy food to cook and eat.  I bought more litter sand from the pet store, because Harry has been inside with us for the last week;  he suffers from depression when he gets stuck in the house for too long.  Several desperate loads of laundry will need  to be folded at some point today.

While getting dressed this morning, I found a set of silk undershirts, perfect for this weather, some of them still in their original packaging.  I smiled, remembering that these had arrived at my grandparent's house for my grandmother, during her shiva.  One of my aunts told me that I should take them back to Israel, that they will keep me warm someday, "She doesn't need silk undershirts anymore," they said.

All these years later, and my grandmother is still taking care of me.

School started at ten am today, and so Raphaela and I took the opportunity to snuggle in bed and take the morning routine a little easy.  I noticed that her finger nails had grown long, and told Raphaela that we would have to trim them today.

Mommy:  Your nails grow so quickly! I remember when you were a baby, I had to cut them every other day just to keep up.
Raphaela:  When I was a baby, did I also have a father?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Gilligan's Island, Day Six

10 pm, Monday Nigh, Text Message:  "Parents, there will be Gan tomorrow in Jerusalem, starting at ten am.  Please be sure to escort your children all the way to the building, as there will be a large area of play ground covered in ice and snow."

6 am, Tuesday morning, Mommy:  "Oh Raphaela, you have school today, Hooray!"
Raphaela:  "Oh Mommy, I am feeling soooo sick (convincing crying), I really think it is better for me to stay home and play with you, just to be safe."

9:45 am, Tuesday morning, Text Message:  "So very sorry, the Ministry of Education along with the teachers have decided that the school grounds are still unsafe and therefore, Gan is canceled for today."

9:50 am, Tuesday morning, Email:  "Unless of course you parents are so desperate to get your kids back to school that you come to the play ground with shovels, put your back into it,  and clear a safe path.  Otherwise, closed."

10 am, Tuesday morning, Text Message:  "Hi, this is the English Afternoon Class.  Even if you don't have Gan in the morning, feel free to bring your kids to our regular session from 1:30-4:15."

12 noon, Tuesday, Email:  "Hello fellow parents, we have worked very hard and the teachers are on their way, come on back to Gan, today!"

Mommy:  "Raphaela, do you want to go to Gan and see everyone?"
Raphaela:  "No. I don't want to walk in the snow and ice."
Mommy:  "OK, then we will go to Tania's in the afternoon and you can see your friends at English Camp."
Raphaela:  "Hooray!"

13:00, TuesdayRaphaela and I set out on foot to her afternoon English program.  A walk that should take less than ten minutes takes us close to a half hour.

13:30, Tuesday:  I see one patient, the first time I have worked in close to a week since the snow started.  A middle aged and supposedly educated Israeli woman asks me if she should clean the ice and snow on her porch with water.  The younger former New Englander snorted, and wondered if Israel teaches the basic physics of ice-liquid water-steam.

14:15, Tuesday:  I visit my friend, stuck in bed with a virus, and we hang out  in her warm house until I must pick up Raphaela from nursery.

16:00, Tuesday:  Walking home from Gan, Raphaela tells me that one of her classmates, "N," made fun of her picture of a snow man.

I tell Raphaela that it does not matter what other people think about her creative efforts, and then I point out that she was in fact the only child in the whole group who gave the snow man ears ("Because he has to hear things, Mommy!") and a full facial expression.  I reassured Raphaela that I loved her no matter what, and that she must always listen to her true Inner Voice.  My daughter responded, "That's right, I drew the best snow man I could draw and my Mommy loves me.  N's Mommy doesn't love her as much as my Mommy loves me."
16:45, Tuesday:  A walk that usually takes ten minutes takes close to a half hour, as the sidewalk slowly begins to freeze over again for the evening.   And now the wait begins, as each parent sits by their radios and their face book status, waiting for notification for tomorrow, praying and hoping that there will be school, a full beautiful day of school.
19:30, Tuesday, SMS:  "School - G-d willing - will take place tomorrow, starting at ten am."
20:00, Tuesday, Raphaela:  "Mommy, if they tell us there is school tomorrow and then they cancel again, I will get very angry."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gilligan's Island, Day Five

This morning on the primitive Isle of Snow Sieged Jerusalem started like any other:  I woke up freezing and with a stiff neck, I made my bed to maintain some sense of normalcy and then tested the faucets, no water again.  I called up the water company with my home made coconut phone and this conversation ensued:

Mommy:  For the second day we don't have water, our pipes froze.
Service Representative:  Yeah (sounding quite resigned and bored by the conversation)
Mommy:  I said, we don't have water.
SR:  Yeah.
Mommy:  What?!
SR:  It's happening all over Jerusalem...yeah.

Then I recharged my home made coconut phone and called the HOT cable company, to find out why I am unable to download movies to entertain my daughter on this, the fifth day of the Snow Siege.

(Waited on hold for 30 minutes)
Mommy:  Our television works, but the service for downloading free videos and movies for children does not.
SR:  What is wrong with you parents these days?
Mommy:  What?!
SR:  Here you are, you have this golden opportunity to spend quality time with your offspring, and you are complaining that you can't rent movies.  Enjoy the time with your children while you are home with them!
Mommy:  But that's exactly the point, my daughter has been home since last Thursday, she does not have Gan today and I have promised her that we could watch a movie.  And I can't watch that movie if your service -for which I pay each month including December - does not work.
SR:  You should count your blessings, there are some people in your area whose cable is not working at all, they get no picture on their screen.  At least you can watch some lousy television programming that we offer.
Mommy: But...
SR: I suggest you call us back when all the snow melts and life in Jerusalem returns to normal, maybe we will take care of it then.

Then disaster struck:  Crazy Neighbor Lady, an elderly woman with severe dementia and living alone, got trapped in the building's elevator.  Panic, crying, screaming and pressing the emergency button over-and-over, the rest of the neighbors stood by and tried to talk her down.  After several hours, after her release, her dementia made her forget the trauma.  I would laugh at the irony if it weren't so sad.

Frustrated from being house-bound, I called a friend of ours who lives relatively down the street, and asked if we could hang out with them today, assuming I could convince my snow hating sabra Raphaela to bundle up and leave the house.  The promise of friends, a warm house and actual cooked food, did the trick.

Black ice covered our entire street, and it took us 15 minutes to mountain climb the set of stairs near our house, the area had become one giant steep and menacing sheet of ice.  I give Raphaela credit, she got on all fours and crawled her way up.  Then we walked carefully for another 15 minutes and arrived at Eden.  Warm house, friends from Gan, fresh pancakes with chocolate chips, a blanket tent built in the living room and a large screen television running children's movies.  Adult company for me, and the feeling of not suffering for five hours or so.

Until Raphaela, tired from the lack of routine and the lack of decent sleep, asked to go home.  I practically cried as we left that haven of support and returned to the ice box that is our home.

It's alright, Mr. and Mrs. Howell have planned a talent show, and Ginger will loan me a dress for the occasion.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Gilligan's Island, Day Four

Woke up this morning to find that we had no running water in the house; apparently the main water supply for parts of Central Jerusalem froze over during the night.

No school or work, four days of the Snow Siege and I am running out of projects with which to entertain Raphaela, not to mention food.  The events of this Winter Storm have officially qualified me to win Survivor Jerusalem.

I wrote a song based upon a popular tune, called "No School Today":

No Gan today,
the snow won't go away.
It's one big icy plain,
I'm going to go insane!

We may actually leave the house today, first time since Thursday, to see if the bakery on Palmach is open.  It must be warmer there than the ice box that is our home.

(No phone, no bikes, no motor cars, not a single luxury.  Like Robinson Caruso, it's primitive as can be.  And damn cold.)

Gilligan's Island, Jerusalem

Around noon on Friday, our street lost power, along with most of Central Jerusalem.  Usually cold and unbearable in the house, Raphaela and I put on several layers of clothing and jackets, since we could not turn on any heaters.

Nor did I have hot water for a shower; my hands felt frostbitten after washing a few dishes.  I could not even boil up water for a cup of hot cocoa, which would have provided great comfort for both of us.

The lack of electricity also meant that my television, land line phone, computer and wi-fi were non-existent, so I had no way of communicating with the outside virtual world, not to mention  having to find creative ways to entertain Raphaela, by candle light.  Ye olde fashioned newspaper was not delivered, so nothing to hold in my hands and read anyway.

Along with all my concerns for us, thank G-d at least inside a house, I kept wandering over to the window and wondering how our street cats were faring in this storm, having not been properly fed since Thursday and living in the thick of almost one foot of snow. On Friday I managed to find one brave cat and feed him, and today on Shabbat I found three others.

Apparently, in consideration for the Ultra-Orthodox, the city took care of  their needs for basic power before Shabbat, since they are "real Jews."

We pagans went into Shabbat with no electricity, so practically speaking we had no cooked food, and could not eat any food that required heating.  Dinner was yogurts, chumus and vegetables rescued from the fridge, with potato chips for dessert.  When power returned briefly during the evening, Raphaela's first response was, "Oh good Mommy, now you can cook me something."

Having spent most of the day today inside, I ventured outside after Shabbat to clear the snow off the car, start up the engine and attempt to move it a little, before the whole street frosts over tonight and turns into black ice.  My former life in New England has served me well this weekend.

Now for the great question:  Raphaela has been on Snow vacation since Thursday, and given the fact that the streets have barely been plowed and the situation of fallen trees, it will probably be dangerous Winter Wonderland for at least the next few days, will she have school tomorrow or Monday?

(Or will I have to cancel patients again? Ah, who needs to make a living anyway, right?)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Snow Day

Israelis, for all their collective bravado, see the slightest sign of rain and turn into 1950's wives who have just seen a mouse:  "EEK, rain!  Pull out the heaters, stock up the fridge, batten down the hatches, drive like morons!"

With talk of snow on the news, Raphaela came home last night from Gan and informed me that if it snowed overnight, there would be no school tomorrow.  When we woke up around six am, the ground was wet from rain, with no flake in sight, and so I sadly informed her that she would be going to Gan today.

At seven am the snow began, though the news reported that school would go on as scheduled.  As the flurries became more intense and started sticking on cars and on the ground, I suspected that we would have a Jerusalem Snow Day - no Gan, no work - and the eight o'clock news confirmed it.  Raphaela immediately ordered me to call her best friend and arrange a play date, and told me a story (in advance) of the fun they will have and the snow adventures they will share.

Of course no one wants to go outside in this weather, and after several attempts with friends, Raphaela expressed anger, "Why doesn't anyone want to come to our house?  Why doesn't anyone want to play with me?"
I explained that she should not take the snow personally:
Mommy:  Do you remember yesterday when your hand were so cold when we walked to Gan?
Raphaela:  Yes.

Mommy:  Do you remember how sad you were in the cold?
Raphaela:  Yes.
Mommy:  Do you want your friends to be sad and cold like that, just to come to your house?
Raphaela: (pause) Yes!
That attempt at empathy backfired, and now both my daughter and my cat Harry can sulk because they are stuck in the house.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Evolving Friendships

From the age of one to thirteen, I had a BFF named Beth.  We did everything together, and confided everything in each other.  When my parents were going through a divorce I practically lived in her house, and when her parents were having issues with Beth's older brother, issues that completely disrupted their family life, she practically lived in mine. 

We swore that we would never lose touch and that we would be, literally, best friends FOREVER.

Then we moved from New York to Boston, and Beth became Ultra-Orthodox. Our lives and our belief systems diverged, and after attempts to stay in contact via snail mail - remember that this was the pre-internet and social media generation - we drifted and she became a pleasant memory for me.

It took me until post college to understand that if a friendship changes or fades, it does not reflect badly on me as a person.  We as human beings evolve individually and as a peer group over time, and some connections that once made sense lose their focus and their purpose.  And that's OK, perfectly normal for most of the population of Gaea.

It's the reason couples get divorced, they become different people and if they don't work at it, they fall out of love.

I met one of my current closest friends at the pregnancy and birth preparation class at Hadassah Hospital.  Our daughters were conceived on the same day through fertility treatments, and they were born a week apart.  For the first several years of their lives, we four girls hung out together, and I imagined that these friendships would last FOREVER.

In the last year or so, because the girls attend different school program and because we see each other less, that aspect of our connection has fallen apart, and for a while it made me sad.  I resolved however that it should not affect my adult friendship, and last night the two Mommies got sitters and met for dinner; the first time in a long time.

The food was yummy, the restaurant warm and cozy, and the conversations wonderful.  It is the kind of relationship that is quite simply familiar and comfortable, where you immediately slip into patterns of trust; my own little Field of Dreams.

We even joked at one point that we will still be friends at the age of 90...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

On the Eighth Day of Chanukah

5:00     With no Gan and no Chanukah camp today, and no patients scheduled, despite there being absolutely no reason wake up early, Raphaela and Harry "The Highlander" wake up earlier than usual, raring to go.  With the rain pouring down from the heavens, there is also no particular reason to leave the house today, and Harry will spend the rest of the day begging by the door, thinking that those little bits of sunshine in between the clouds are reason enough to attempt to go outside.

8:00     We have already eaten breakfast and had the hot chocolate I was saving for later, in desperation, I have revealed my secret weapon to Raphaela, the project for this afternoon.  Raphaela will spend much of the morning hugging the box and asking, essentially, "Are we there yet?"

8:30  With the briefest break in the rain, Raphaela and I bundle up and run outside to feed the street cats;  poor things, fur matted down and looking slightly miserable, they seem grateful for the one meal they might receive today.

10:00  We brave the rain and rent the latest (real person) Smurfs movie, a parable which questions Nature vs. Nurture and the usefulness of surprise birthday parties; as well as sugar coating the difficulties facing step-families, it features (what I am assuming)lots of CGI. Unless of course the Smurfs and hyper intelligent talking cats and ducks are real and are active members of the Acting Guild.

Lunch  In which I learn that when eating pasta shaped like animals, one does not mix species.  Elephants with elephants, lions with lions, turtles with turtles and giraffes with giraffes, like in the Ark.

12:30-14:30  Chanukah Nap.  Meanwhile, the sun seems to be pushing through the clouds, though the weather and the temperature outside are not much more welcoming than this morning.

15:00  The day's surprise and special project, a do-it yourself kid friendly confectioners kit, in keeping with the week's theme of Chanukah and the other miracle, Chocolate.

16:30-17:30  Dora and Diego on television, Lord bless them.

17:45  Bath time IE the first time either of us have taken off our pajamas since yesterday evening.

18:30  Dinner followed by story time, in which we read a new favorite of Raphaela's, an Israeli children's book about a bully in Gan who finally gets put in his place by the new kid, who doesn't understand why the other children and their teacher have been letting him get away with this crap for so long.

19:45  Bed time, and I smile in the knowledge that tomorrow Raphaela returns to Gan. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Chanukah in the Old City 2013

Since Raphaela has never been to the Old City in Jerusalem in a cognitive conscious way, I had decided that on one of the days of Chanukah I would take her on a walk through the Old City and to the Kotel [Wailing Wall].  The weather report for the next three days is threatening rain (finally!) for the next three days,  so we set off today.

My expectations of her ability to traverse the rocky paths and the long walk were low, and Raphaela far exceeded them, walking almost four hours on the steep and broken streets, pushing through the massive crowds without fear.  When we concluded our tour and were on our way to the bus stop, Raphaela said, "Mommy, why bother taking the bus?  We can walk home from here, it's not that far from here!"  Well, she might have had excess energy but Mommy felt pretty exhausted.

While it is less advisable to give charity money to random people wandering around the Old City, I wanted to teach Raphaela the joy of giving with a full heart, so I set aside a bunch of loose change, gave it to her and told her that she could give it to whomever she felt fit.  Raphaela distributed the change to many people, including a random mother walking with her children;  the woman laughed, understanding the meaning behind the gesture, and suggested Raphaela give the coins to someone more worthy and more needy than herself.

As we walked through the alleys, I explained to Raphaela that the ridges in the stones were part of an ancient sewage and drainage system, and that the Jews in the time of Chanukah did not have a modern plumbing system or bathtubs like we have today.  Raphaela seemed even more concerned when I told her that in the time of the Macabees, there was no such thing as television or the Internet.

"What did they do with their time, Mommy?" (Very valid question for this generation...)

We lost count of the number of menorahs we saw, large small and very large.

At the Kotel, I explained to Raphaela that although G-d listens to us everywhere, this place, a remnant of the Temple, G-d listens very well, and that she could make a special wish.

I submitted my regular Christmas list IE health, good friends and supportive relationships, professional success, the end of this war of terror and World Peace etc.  When I asked Raphaela what she had discussed with G-d, she answered that she had requested Love.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Willie Wonka's Chanukah Projects

Every Chanukah, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo features some hands-on project for children involving candy.  Last year Raphaela made a full sized mouse out of sugar dough - ears, whiskers, tail and everything - and it took her almost three weeks to finish eating it; she had decided the mouse was her friend and felt slightly guilty cutting him up piece by piece.

If you ask Raphaela about her candy mouse, she will still say, "He is in my stomach!"

This year the zoo had a chocolate workshop:

That sucker was gone before we got to the tiger habitat.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivvukah 2013

Particularly because it happens once every 70,000 years...

I have always felt that it is most important to be thankful, on a daily basis, and I welcome the opportunity of Thanksgiving to teach Raphaela that we should express gratitude for the people who influenced us and the places that gave us context for our lives.

Each Thanksgiving we are in Jerusalem, we join 40 or so expats at the Inbal Hotel and feast upon the traditional holiday foods and listen to music.  Between the turkey overload and the lateness of the evening, Raphaela and I crash as soon as we get home, regretfully knowing that we must wake up on time the next morning for Gan, and Israeli normal life.

This year, bonus, we can pig out Thursday night and sleep in Friday morning, because Chanukah and Thanksgiving overlap, almost as if we were celebrating with our family in the States!

With a talented jazz band playing in the background, we enjoyed our meal surrounded by friends.  Among the varied meats and side dishes, there appeared latkes, and for dessert, along with the usual fare, the table featured jelly doughnuts, in the spirit of Thanksgivukkah. 

Caught up in the atmosphere, Raphaela disappeared on and off to explore the hotel, and would then come running back into the room, curls bouncing, grabbing the hands of strangers so they could dance with her.

I think this is the first time since her birth that she has basically amused herself, allowing me to have a truly grown-up social experience. I didn't want to leave.

In the car on the way home, Raphaela and I reminisced, replaying our favorite moments of the evening.  Raphaela's recollection of the meal?  "Man, those cucumbers were mighty tasty!"


Thanksgivukkah Cucumbers (Family Recipe)

Peel cucumber, cut into round slices (thin or thick, as per preference)
Place in serving bowl, serve.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Conclusion to the Car Story

The painter, whose lack of expertise caused the initial damage to the car, did not allow me to take the car to my garage for repairs, since he was footing the bill. Instead, he recommended his people IE he wanted a place in Jerusalem that was owned by and only employed religious Jews, rather than our Arab cousins.

Last week I dropped off the car, and two days later they called me to report that they had worked "very hard" and that it was clean and ready to come home.  When I went to pick it up, I inspected their work, and it quickly became obvious that not only had they not done any work at all, but also that areas of the paint that had been previously undamaged were now worse than before.

When I confronted them, I got the run around, "Well, you would have to talk to the owner of the garage, who is my father, but he is not here now and I have no idea when he would be available to speak to you."  "We are very busy now anyway and it would have to wait a few weeks, no harm, no foul." And it went on like that, so I called the painter and made my position clear:  I would be taking the car to my people whom I trust and have used for the last 13 years, and that he would be paying for it.

The painter agreed, and this morning we all met at my garage, where we came to a settlement regarding the damage done and the cost of the repair.  This afternoon I received a call from my guys, saying that they didn't know what products the other garage had used, and beyond the obvious damage of the paint splatter, the acidic material had eaten through the paint job on the entire car, and that if I truly wanted to get the job done well, I would have pay another 5000 NIS for a complete reconstruction.

I considered the hassle and the cost, and asked the most real question, "Is the car terribly ugly?"  They replied that unless you really looked at the paint in bright sunlight, it could pass without serious notice.

As a single mother with far more important life concerns than the aesthetics of my car, I passed on their offer, instructing them to do what they could with the monies already paid.  I have neither the inclination nor the strength to consider a law suit.

As my mother would say, "It's a kaparah!"*

I still intend to call the painter and his "trusty garage," and let them know that just because someone is wearing a skullcap and has a larger than life picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe hanging in their space, does not mean that they do better work than the Arabs, who actually have shown me more professionalism in this field in the last 16 years that I have lived in Israel.

That's enormous coming from me, a woman who was almost killed by a Palestinian sniper during the Second Intifada, as an artist who appreciates beauty, and a Jew who has great respect for the person who was the Lubavitcher Rebbe; I met him in person in New York while studying at Barnard College, and regardless of the misdirection his movement has taken, he was truly a man connected to himself and to the Higher Power.

My Inner Voice and that Higher Power are telling me to move on.


kaparah = a Hebrew term for a situation where you are suffering a little in order to avoid a Divine decree to suffer a hell of a lot more than you could ever imagine; Some superstitious version of the Jewish guilt/martyrdom complex.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Miles To Go

In anticipation of the annual Gan Chanukah party, Raphaela spent almost two weeks singing the songs and showing me the elaborate dance moves her teacher had choreographed.  As she got dressed in her festive outfit for the party, she could not contain her enthusiasm, Raphaela was literally bouncing off the walls.

When we arrived, the large room filled up quickly, stuffed end to end with teachers and parents and grandparents and siblings and the children, the stars of the show.  That's when Raphaela went into performance anxiety/stage fright mode, and for most of the planned program sat on the side while her classmates gave their parents photo opportunities.

Toward the end of the Chanukah play, Raphaela made an attempt to join the group, but one of her teachers pushed her to the side, telling her that it was too late.

Needless to say, I felt confused and disappointed, despite my too clear recollection of the Purim costume melt-down last year.  And the reason that we stopped swimming lessons, and didn't even attempt ballet this year.

(I made excuses for it, maybe she was tired or maybe that is just her independent spirit.)

When we got home, Raphaela asked me if I was angry at her because she didn't participate, and I tried to not invest too much negative emotion in my reply.  I answered her that I was not angry, rather disappointed and sad for her;  that she did not participate, considering that I knew that she knew all the moves and knowing that she was looking forward to the event, and that it would have been fun and rewarding for her.

Raphaela reaffirmed that if she doesn't want to do something, she "will not do it."

I could not fall asleep last night, feeling like a bit of a failure as a parent, thinking about other parents talking about the debacle behind our back, and the worst feeling, that her teachers would somehow think less of Raphaela and treat her differently because of her adamant refusal.  As well, I felt frustrated because I had no spouse or partner, or even family with whom I could flesh out the issue.

This afternoon, Raphaela told me that several of her teachers had confronted her today about her behavior, and that it made her feel "icky from the icky words."

Having adopted the life philosophy that I am not going to allow lousy feelings to build up inside me, I left a message for her head teacher today, that I would like to speak to her when she had free time and the opportunity to brainstorm.  We spoke for almost 20 minutes, and I expressed my concern that while I admire Raphaela's determination and single minded-ness, I am afraid that she will not learn the benefits of being part of a group, that sometimes the rules of society are not objectionable.

I explained to her teacher that I too live "outside the box," in the sense that I generally do not care what others think of me, and that I will question the rules rather than following blindly.  However, having 45 years or so experience of doing things The Hard Way, I have come to appreciate that receiving help and dipping into the pool of the groupthink every once in a while moves things along nicely.

Hila, her teacher, admitted that she was quite surprised at Raphaela's behavior, that in rehearsals my daughter had shone and had been expected to be the star of the play.  Hila also suggested that rather than shyness, Raphaela seemed confused and overwhelmed by the large crowd.  We agreed together to meet and to discuss a long term educational plan suited for my daughter, to teach her how to straddle Raphaela World along with the rest of reality.

Yet, I am still having trouble letting go of the sadness and that sense of failure.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

This morning, while taking Raphaela to Gan, I received the highest compliment:  one of the parents of another child in Raphaela's class was running late, could not find a parking space and was blocking traffic.  He saw me and said, "Excuse me, my son is in your daughter's class, would you take him into school today?"

I agreed with pleasure, and walked with two talkative children to Gan instead of one, grateful to see Raphaela holding hands and playing happily with her friend, and for the trust that this father placed in me.

And the best part, when Raphaela stood by the window of her classroom and waved good bye to me (as has become our custom each morning), this little boy stood there along side her, both of them throwing me air kisses and wishing me a great day.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Good Fences

For the past 14.5 years, I have lived on the same street in Jerusalem, a dead end with three buildings, and I have jumped from one to the other to the other. 

Approximately seven years ago, a drunk boy (now a "reformed" Ultra Orthodox man) driving back from a party hit my parked car and severely dented in its side.  What resulted was a series of accusations and a lack of cooperation from the offender, which led us to court, which led to several dirty acts of retaliation by the hands of the family members of this boy.

As it happens, the boy and his family are now my downstairs neighbors.  Awkward.

Awkward when I moved across the street and started parking in the new lot, only to find verbally abusive anonymous notes on my car, demanding that I park where I live and not in "their private spaces."  I responded by posting a note on the door of my new building saying,
"For the general information of the residents:  the blue Scenic and its owner now live here and we are your neighbors.  We have as much right to use a parking space as you do.  And by the way, the blue Scenic and its owners also have a cat named Harry. He is not a street cat and he has a collar, so if you see him sitting next to the door waiting for me to let him in, do not chase him away.  Thank you."

More awkward when this week I went to my car, an automobile that stays parked for most of the time, except for a few excursions to the supermarket or the very occasional drive to Tel Aviv for a Chiropractic Board meeting.  I noted that for no reasonable explanation, my car, Cher*, which had previously been the color navy blue, was now spotted with a sparkly white paint, everywhere.  On the roof, on the windows and the sides of the car.

After several inquiries around the building, I discovered that my neighbors, the same French neighbors who years ago behaved badly as far as my car and I were concerned, had in fact been painting this week, and that the paint job of several of the other neighbor's cars had been destroyed in the process.


I girded myself for battle, trying to figure out the best way to approach the situation:
"You ruined my car and you must compensate me!"  (Nope, too direct and immediately belligerent, even for Israelis.)
"I know you were painting this week, and I know that you are aware of the damage your painter caused!" ( Nope, still a touch on the belligerent side, leaving very little room for kindness and negotiation.)
"Tell me, do you know if any of the neighbors were painting inside their house this week?"  (Nope, I cannot pull off the Stupid na├»ve thing, and I need to start with a certain position of strength.)

Finally, I knocked on the door and started with, "Hi, I need to ask you a question."

Before I could proceed, the woman of the house said, "And I already know the answer to your question."  She continued, explaining that her painter ("who is a very trustworthy and honest man...") tried a new machine for spraying the paint, and that he was unaware of the damage he had caused until after it happened; and that they had been so busy this week that they hadn't had the time to come to me before I came to them; and that they are already looking into estimates to get the cars of all the neighbors fixed and polished.

Then she suggested, with kindness of course, that they would be willing to buy me a tarp to cover my car until it was repaired, since it now looked so hideous.

OK then.  Much less traumatic than I had anticipated, and that is a good thing.  Now begins the waiting game, but with several families breathing down their neck, here's hoping these people don't take too long to take care of the problem.

*  My car's name is Cher because the first song that came on the radio when she was new and shiny was "I got you Babe" by Sonny and Cher.  Figuring that I did not want to name my baby after a former Congressman who smashed into a tree and died while skiing, I went with his partner's name instead.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Story of Chanukah by Raphaela

Once there was a wicked king named Antiochus, from ["Mommy, what's the name of that country again?" "Greece." "Right...] Greece, and he broke the Temple and threw the Torah into the fire.  Antiochus also had elephants.

The Macabees were very sad because of the idols that Antiochus put inside the Temple, so they threw the idols into the fire.  With the elephants.

Then the Macabees had to fix the Temple and it was very hard for them, so Noah helped them, because Noah already had vast experience in building and fixing things. ["Mommy, he did a great job with the Ark, and it was very big!"]

Then the Macabees went into the cave and played dreidel.

The End

Rehab for Antiochus (Channukah I)

Raphaela has shown a consistent tendency to see the best in people, and to try to rehabilitate the reputation of the less than positive figures she encounters. 

For example, the Wolf (from children's opera Peter and the Wolf) started as the enemy, the eater of the duck and evolved into a household pet.  During the period of her obsession with this show, her wolf doll went everywhere with her and was the focus of all her imaginary play.  The Wolf had emotional needs for hugs and kisses, which she happily provided.

Now we have a new candidate for her Social Services:  Antiochus the Ancient Greek king who destroyed the Temple in the time of the Chanukah story, the holiday we Jews will celebrate in about two weeks time.  They have started teaching the song and symbols of Chanukah at Gan, partially in preparation for the parents' party, and I have heard much about Antiochus, how he wanted everyone to do what he did, how he put a "stupid idol" in the Jewish Temple, and how he focused on outer banalities like beauty rather than morality and devotion to G-d.  (Yes, this is what my four year old learns at Gan...)

And yet, I think Raphaela feels badly for him in some way, that he has such a terrible role as the baddie of the Chanukah story; so Antiochus has begun to join us at playtime and at the dinner table, and when he behaves nicely, I am informed by my daughter that "Antiochus deserves a cookie."

I love and admire the loving acceptance that Raphaela shows to others, both real and imaginary, and I hope that life does not disappoint her when reality sets in, that not everyone can be saved.

Just wait until I have to tell her the real story behind Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Free Gital

Doubtless you have read or heard the story making the rounds in the New York Press and throughout the Jewish world: Gital, law student and suffering wife of the great-grandson of Rav Moshe Feinstein*, this man refuses to give his wife a Get, employing the logic of "If she doesn't want me, then no one can have her."  If even half of what Gital reports about their brief marriage is true, then indeed, this Ultra-Orthodox couple got married too young and this man is a controlling bastard; unfortunately, their three year old has become collateral damage as well.

She only went to the press to plead her case with the public after it became clear that her community would not extricate her and her baby from a terrible situation.

Gital's feeling of helpless-ness saddens me the most, she states that already after their second "date" she already expressed that she did not want to marry him, and was pushed into the relationship. When she felt miserable and trapped and abused almost immediately after the wedding ceremony, she claims that she could not reach out for help, not even to her own parents, for fear of shaming her family.  That this woman was not even given the option of holding off on pregnancy until the marriage had solidified (or not) speaks volumes about the unrealistic and antiquated matchmaking and family practices of the Ultra Orthodox.

I pause, allowing myself to remember the cardinal rule on Star Trek, that of non-interference.  Perhaps it is not my place, or that of the press or the public to impose our own sense of morality upon another community.  Then I remember that each Captain of the Enterprise eventually violated that line in the sand, stepping in when it seemed not only necessary but vital to the survival of the future.

And so I say, the time has come to officially expose the Ultra Orthodox community in their mistreatment and generalized debasement of the rights of women, and good for Gital for seeking outside help.

I close with two stories from my personal experience in my Chiropractic Clinic:

Many years ago, when I started working in Israel, an "older" IE over thirty woman became my patient.  Well educated and gainfully employed, combined with her age, she was categorized as a lost cause within her community, and told that she should marry the first man who looks her way, because she "cannot be too picky."  She married a man who has been since banned from my office for bad behavior:  boorish, perpetually unemployed, obese and apparently covered in burn scars on half his body, this woman married so far below what she deserved for herself and her life.  Several years later, three children later, she works full time as the Principal of an Ultra Orthodox school, and suffers daily. But she is not allowed to complain because she must be grateful than any man was willing to have sex with her.

Yesterday, another patient, an older Arab woman came in for her maintenance care Chiropractic adjustment.  In the past year, her daughter, a young woman with two children, died suddenly and mysteriously;  because of questions about her death, her burial was delayed and the whole family lived a nightmare.  When this woman came in yesterday, I asked about her grandchildren, how they were coping these days with the loss of their mother.  "They have a new Mama," she answered.  It seems that the husband was forced to remarry rather quickly to a woman he didn't really know and doesn't love, because "someone has to be a mother to those children."

When I suggested that it might have been easier to hire a baby sitter or nanny, my patient responded, "That's how we do things."

*  Ironically, Rav Moshe was one of the first Orthodox Rabbis in the 20th century to actively fight for the rights of Jewish women in cases of divorce and Agunah  [Hebrew for a woman trapped in a marriage by her husband]

Monday, November 4, 2013

Recycling Crisis

This morning, as I stood in the kitchen preparing Raphaela's mid-day snack for school, I heard her cry out, "Mommy, there's been a terrible mistake!"

I found her standing over the recycling bag in our house, pulling out sheet after sheet of her drawings and scribblings, that had somehow (wink wink) ended up in the garbage and that someone (pointing finger at myself) had not yet had the opportunity to take to the recycling bin downstairs.

"How could this have happened?" she lamented.  "My drawing, my creations, we must rescue them."

There are days that Raphaela returns from Gan with pages of exercises they have done in the classroom that day, along with random pictures that she has drawn in her spare time.  I generally look through the group, save one or two that show uniqueness and emotion, and remove the rest.  Just yesterday, she presented me with an astounding drawing - for a four year old - of our family, with bobble head people and a bobble head cat, we all have a golden yellow halo around us.  With clouds and a sun in the sky and green grass below us, it's a keeper, and I am even planning on laminating it for posterity.

But not every project she brings home represents Great Art, and in the interest of maintaining some sense of order in the house, I thin the herd so to speak.

All this has improved my acting skills, when I put on my saddest most surprised face and say, "Oy!  How terrible!  We must fix this problem right now..."  (IE I must throw out the garbage while she is at Gan.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

We watch Doctor Who, though when I feel it is inappropriately creepy or scary for a four year old, I do shut it off immediately.  But it is fair to say that both Raphaela and I are fans of the show.

This past Shabbat at lunch, Raphaela called the husband of our hostess a Potato Head, because sadly, he did look a little like a walking potato, referencing one of the characters on Doctor Who (Strax) to whom he bore a similarity.

I was not paying particular attention until I heard the man say, "Are you calling me a Potato Head?!" I attempted damage control, trying to explain that she was talking about a television program, but alas, not much can be done about the honest outbursts of a four year old.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jumping Back In

Last night I dreamt that I had been set up by a matchmaker with a Chareidi (Ultra Orthodox) man, and after that one date, apparently we got married, in my parents' house.  And then almost immediately it was Sheva Brachot *, and that man who sat next to me was the not the man I had been married to, although the details of the ceremony were fuzzy at best.

Then ensued a whole argument with this man, me saying, "You are not the man I married!" with him insisting otherwise.  I remember thinking to myself in the dream, "The other guy was not appropriate for me because of religious issues but this guy is such a schmuck, if I had to take one over the other, I would choose the Chareidi man. Though neither is an ideal mate for me by any means."

This morning, a Chardal# friend of mine, the mother of one of Raphaela's friends, gave me a heads-up, that she had given my name and phone number to a friend of her husband's as a potential match.  "He's Chareidi, like us, but he is a photographer, open-minded, with a good heart."  I expressed hesitation, that my spiritual and religious beliefs fall no where near their world view, but she felt certain that this man and I could find common ground.

He called soon after, and spent the first three minutes of the conversation asking me about my work as a Chiropractor; what techniques do I use, how many patients do I see, how much money do I make etc.  If a potential date chooses to delve into my financials instead of Me, I immediately lose interest; this rule has developed over time and experience.

For the next and last two minutes of our phone conversation, he cut straight to the point, "Where do you stand religiously?"  I told him that I don't fit neatly into any one box, that Jewish values, Shabbat and Kosher will always play an important role in my home, but that I also wear pants, watch television and movies, and go mixed swimming.

"Glad I asked." his tone changing quickly, I could hear in his voice that he had stopped smiling.  "I am sure you are a spectacular person," he continued, "but I could not physically or emotionally attracted to a woman who wore pants.  I am looking for a woman who will embrace the Chareidi lifestyle and keep a proper Jewish home.  That's not you, I don't want to waste my time, best of luck."

He hung up, and I took none of it personally.  I called my friend just to let her know that her sense of this man and his supposed openness was incorrect.  Rather than moving on from the experience, my friend gave me a ten minute lecture, "You are not where we are [religiously] YET, but we still communicate well and our daughters are friends.  I am sure you misunderstood him, so I am going to have my husband speak to him and get his side of the story and his perceptions of your phone call."

Then the cherry on the icing on the cake, "And would it hurt you to stop wearing pants and become Chareidi if it meant you found your soul mate?  Change hurts, but it can bring you to a better place." [ I took short breaths to stop myself from shouting down the phone, "I am a good Jew, I do not need to be upgraded!"]  She continued, "Not that I am judging you in any way of course.  Why just this week I gave up the Internet because my husband told me to; it drives me crazy but at least we have Shalom Bayit!"%

Despite my assertion that a healthy relationship is one in which the two sides accept each other unconditionally, that I should not have to change the essence of my belief system for a man I don't know, I felt that my friend was barely listening.  When I said, "There is compromise, and then there is loss of identity," she said that I was being inflexible.

Yeah, this dating gig is going to be a blast.


*Sheva Brachot = Seven Blessings in Hebrew, the week long meal-fest for family and friends after the wedding, primarily to invite those who did not make the cut on the A-list

#Chardal = Charedi Dati Leumi in Hebrew, meaning Nationalist Ultra Orthodox, a level of religiosity somewhere between Orthodox and Chareidi.  Also coincidentally the Hebrew word for mustard.

%Shalom Bayit = Peace in the House in Hebrew, implying less conflict and struggle between a husband and wife

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Braver than I

My Raphaela...a real snake...around her neck.
Enough said.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Such Sweet Sorrow

My parents have been visiting us from Boston for the past two weeks.  Raphaela has gotten very used to the idea that she will see them every day after Gan, and that we will eat dinner together as a family.

Just now, Raphaela and I helped my parents with their suitcases and saw them off to their flight.  The mood was festive and playful, and even though we adults had attempted to explain to Raphaela that she would now have to talk with her grandparents on the computer rather than at their "house" in Jerusalem, I don't believe that she understood the implications of their leaving.

I am thrilled that my parents and my daughter became so close, and I hope that we can maintain that connection even with the geographical distance between us.

It is so important to know that you have family that loves you, and I wish for Raphaela the same relationship I treasured with my own grandparents.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

This past Friday night, Raphaela fell and cracked open her chin, all the way through to the bone, forcing us to go to the Emergency Room at Shaarei Zedek Hosptial.  The amount of blood pouring out of her little body was scary enough, until she had a severe allergic reaction to the anesthesia, and then it got even scarier.

We are home now and all stitched up, and I am having a harder time getting past the incident than my daughter.  I am so grateful to have my child, and if nothing else, have learned not to take anything or anyone for granted.

As my cousin said to me, "This parenting thing ain't for the weak."

Today I read Mister (Fred) Rogers for inspiration and faith, and it resonated with me when he wrote, "There's a loving mystery at the heart of the universe, just yearning to be expressed."

Friday, October 18, 2013

Gan Birthday 2013

Today, my daughter along with two other children, jumped her way officially into the Land of Four, with her birthday party at Gan.  The most touching moment for me?  When the teacher scattered flowers on the floor, and then to the tune of Vivaldi, each of the girls 'picked' a bouquet and presented them to their parents, as a way of saying thank you for having raised them well until now.

Funniest moment? When Raphaela performed The Chicken Dance, and man, can she swing her hips!

Most meaningful? That my parents from Boston were there to see the ceremony and enjoy this piece of our lives.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A few days ago, after I picked up Raphaela from Gan, we sat in the playroom together.  Suddenly Raphaela said, "Mommy, you should get out of the house more."  She continued, "You should call S [her favorite baby sitter] right now, and tell her to come over.  I want her to do my nails."  When I suggested that I could paint her nails just as well, she insisted that she would wait for S to arrive.

 I think it's time I got a life, now that I have my daughter's stamp of approval.

Journey to the Gan Birthday 2013

Beginning of October

Knowing that my parents are coming in from Boston for a visit to Israel within two weeks, and hearing every day from Raphaela about her Gan birthday party, I asked her teacher to finalize a date for the party, asking that it coincide with my parent's visit.

One Week Later

I (and three other parents) receive an email describing what we must bring for the celebration, and that we should "work it out amongst yourselves" as to who brings what.  Acknowledging that Raphaela's teacher must have a reason for having four children share the day, I inquire as to whether two or three might be a more optimal number than four, which I believe robs each individual birthday prince and princess of their time to enjoy the attention and bask in the spotlight.

I am told, "Don't worry, it will all work out."  The teacher then reminded the group that we must make a special cake for one of the girls in the class, "M" who is "deathly allergic to everything."

The email starts a flurry of correspondences and phone calls back and forth, in which one parent (not me, and I thought I was a control freak) decides that she is going to take care of "mostly everything."

Six Days Before Party (BP)

Having received a recipe for a cake "M", it occurs to us that there are two children in the class who have gluten sensitivity, and that they cannot eat anything with flour.  Now we are making both a hypo-allergenic and gluten-free dessert. (Yum?)

Four Days BP

Apparently one of the mothers really wants to be the boss of everyone, make all the decisions and take on most of the work by herself.  I have been given the job of making individual salads for the individual picnic baskets, almost 40 in total.  That's a lot of chopping vegetables.

I suddenly realize that on Wednesday night I have a Chiropractic Board Meeting in Tel Aviv.  Somewhere between Wednesday and Thursday I must do a major shop, including our regular weekly list, stocking up food for my parents' arrival, and the birthday party.  My parents arrive some time Thursday, and on Friday morning we celebrate in Gan.  Then, sometime before Shabbat, I must cook for Shabbat as well. With no wiggle room for breathing or sleeping those three days, I am getting dizzy just thinking about it.

Two Days BP

After two separate trips to the supermarket, I have still forgotten certain items for the party on Friday, d'oh!  And in honor of the occasion of me being stuck in Tel Aviv for a late night meeting, Raphaela will have her first ever, in her whole life sleepover at a friend's house this evening.  (I am not counting as a sleepover the several days that Raphaela stayed with friends when I was in the hospital recuperating from my emergency appendectomy.)

Somehow, between my very specific instructions to the teacher in the morning - "Here is a special bag for today, please make sure that Raphaela takes it with her when she gets picked up and taken home with her friend." -  and my specific instructions to the baby sitter -"I have left a large blue Barnard College tote bag with a B at Gan.  Please make sure you pick it up, it contains her pajamas, her toothbrush and hair brush, and a favorite toy."- you guessed it.  The bag is no where, lost somewhere in Jerusalem between my house, the Gan and the baby sitter.  I will have to search for it tomorrow, because I have so much time while I am getting ready for my parents arrival.

One Day BP

The overnight bag?  Exactly where I left it in the Gan the morning before.

Spent the afternoon creating individual salads for the birthday party tomorrow, and only started getting bored toward the end.  So I pumped up the volume on my motivational music CD, with classics like "Eye of the Tiger" and "We Are the Champions", and finished the job.  Then I started the chicken soup for Shabbat, and felt very house frau, tired, but happy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

One of my favorite memories of my grandmother is the song "Good Morning Merry Sunshine," which she would sing to me first thing in the morning every day I stayed at my grandparents' house.  I have begun this tradition with Raphaela, and now if we get too busy in the morning routine and I forget to sing, she will remind me, "Mommy, you forgot to sing our morning song!"

This morning she woke up and stretched and told me, "I am not ready to wake up yet, I have not put on my colors.  I am only pure white right now."

Sunday, October 13, 2013

That New Baby Smell

As is our custom, every Shabbat Raphaela and I meet one of her former Gan classmates (and her mother and sister) at the park in the afternoon, and play together.  We had not seen them for several weeks, as the mother recently gave birth to a third child, a sweet little baby boy.

Sitting there on the bench, watching the three girls play, I asked if I could hold the new baby.  As soon as he was placed in my arms, he seemed to relax, and the effect reverberated both ways.  That combination of a new baby smell, the small-ness  and new-ness of everything, it made me feel so quiet and happy inside.

Raphaela came over, tentatively looking at this bundle in my arms, and I asked my daughter if we should take the baby home with us.

Raphaela:  No, that is not our baby!
Mommy:   Well what if there were another baby inside Mommy's tummy, and then that baby came home with us and stayed with us?  You could be a big sister just like your friend.
Raphaela:  No! [most definitively]  We have a doll at home that is like a baby...[pause for dramatic effect] and the doll even has a stroller.  Isn't that enough?

We two mothers smiled at the reaction.

Raphaela:  And besides Mommy, you told me that Harry does not like to share his house or his family.

That's right, blame it on the cat...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Point Taken

Ever since our trip to the United States last year for Thanksgiving, Raphaela inevitably ends up in my bed at some point during the night.  Sleeping with her is like sleeping with a washing machine.

Last night she chose to sleep in her own bed, and I did a little victory dance in my head.  Around midnight, I heard a thump, and then a sweet little "Ow!" and then the beginning of crying. I went into her room and she had rolled off her bed and found herself on the floor.

I picked her up and hugged her, and she said to me, "And THAT is why I like sleeping in your bed better."  Then she took a stuffed animal, walked into my room and settled in, falling back asleep almost immediately.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

This morning, when Harry - our 11.5 year old cat and my first born - came into the room a little after five am, Raphaela - my four year old human child - said, "Harry, be quiet!  Mommy is still sleeping."

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Shabbat Shalom

Walking to Gan this morning with Raphaela, we waited patiently at the cross walk for the light to turn green.  In front of us, an elderly man on the way to synagogue looked both ways and crossed against the red.

Raphaela got very upset and said to me, "Mommy, it was red! He crossed when it was red!"

Once we crossed, we were able to catch up to this gentleman, and Raphaela pulled on his shirt to speak to him about his traffic violation.  Hard of hearing, he leaned down with his good ear to listen.

" Man, be careful!  You are not supposed to cross when the little man is red."

" You are absolutely right.  I crossed because I am running late, but I should not have done it."  He stroked her cheek and continued, " Thank you sweet girl.  Shabbat Shalom."

It's a good thing my daughter has never seen me cross the street in The City, red pedestrian light, zig-zagging between the cars, when I was a "real" New Yorker.  I would most certainly get an earful.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Get this Girl a Sandwich!

I remember a specific two weeks during my pregnancy when the doctors were concerned that Raphaela's stomach was not growing in proportion with the rest of her body.  Until they performed that second ultra-sound and confirmed that she was in fact healthy, I had made a lot of bargains with G-d.

From the moment she emerged, my daughter has enjoyed the experience and sensuality of food, without over-eating.  I feel like I spent most of this past vacation either preparing snacks for an outing, or answering the question, "What can I eat?" 

This morning when we arrived at Gan, one of her friends sat at a little table eating a sandwich his mother has sent.  One of Raphaela's teachers came over to me and quietly asked, "Is there a reason you don't send a sandwich for Raphaela for morning snack? She always seems hungry."

I replied, "I don't send a sandwich because I know that Raphaela will not eat it. She and I are not 'bread people,' now matter how hard I try to introduce her to the joy of the P and J."  (Believe me, I would rather not have to be quite so creative with her options for snack time.)

When her teacher continued to look concerned, I asked why the staff was under the impression that Raphaela goes hungry, and she explained that during snack time, Raphaela devours her fruit.

"That's because Raphaela loves fruit." I explained to the teacher.  "In fact, given the choice between junk food and a fruit, she will more often than not take the healthy option.  She has always been a solid eater."

The teacher seemed puzzled and murmured under her breath, "A child who likes fruit rather than sweets, hmmm."

And just to assure her further, I added that Raphaela eats a small breakfast before even arriving at Gan.  The teacher's face lit up (how Israeli...) and hugged Raphaela and exclaimed, "Ah, your mother takes such good care of you!"

Post script:  One of my patients a 91 year old Holocaust survivor, takes a special interest in Raphaela.  Today, when this woman came for an appointment, she asked to see an updated picture, and then said with a smile, "This is clearly a child who is well-fed and well-loved."  It's all about perspective.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The First Question

For years I have read the psychology books, consulted with SMBC friends and memorized a child-friendly version of the IUI story, ready to be told when Raphaela began asking questions about her origins and her family.

Until recently the topic, "Who/Where is my father?", it had never come up, and my daughter has proven herself more than capable of expressing all of her curiosity and concerns. 

Having reached the age of four, that question still has not been asked directly.  One evening over the Succot holiday, where she and I basically spent 24/7 together and where there was no structure of Gan, I saw Raphaela sink into a chair, and she seemed...sad.  I asked her what was wrong and she said, "I want a father.  I want a father that is just mine."

After all my mental preparation for this moment and all my skill at empathy and communication, I failed at the task. I tried to tell her "story" in a positive way, ending with the promise that she is loved and will always have loving and supportive people around her.  It felt hollow to me, because inside I wanted to cry;  I should never have assumed that the lack of a father was a non-issue just because it had never came up in conversation.

I wanted to hold her and rock her and assure her, "It's OK my love, I will find you a father."  But that would have been unfair to both of us, to create expectations far beyond my ability or control.

The next day, Raphaela said to me, "Mommy, it's OK that I don't have a father because you don't have one either, right?"  Again, I was at a loss for words, how to explain that in fact I don't have one father, but rather two, that I am part of the typical divorce phenomenon that now plagues modern life and far too many families.

Later that day, after I had given her some stickers, she came over to me and said, "Look Mommy, I got these wonderful stickers from my father!"

 I know that Raphaela knows that she is loved:  I observed her playing with her Barbie dolls and saying, "I love my Mommy, she gives me lots of food and lots of hugs and she loves me as big as Space."

And yet, here I stand, speechless in the face of the First Question.

Succot PTSD

As we left the house this morning, Raphaela immediately noticed that the two giant succot structures that had been sitting in our parking lot were gone, vanished overnight at the close of the holiday.

Distraught, she exclaimed, "Oh no Mommy, the ants carried the succot away!"

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ten Days...

since Raphaela's vacation from Gan began, and the madness has set in.

Here's my revolutionary idea:  why don't we pay teachers the salary they actually deserve, and then they will feel less inclined to take inordinately long and contrived days off from work?

(I have always said that the two highest paid professions SHOULD BE sanitation workers and teachers.  Garbage men and women, because if they didn't do their job we would have all died off a long time ago of horrific diseases; and teachers, because if you get a good one early on, it can change the life and future of a child.)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

First Rain of the Season

Every Shabbat afternoon, Raphaela and I meet a friend of hers and her family at the local park;  the girls spend most of their time eating the snacks we parents have packed for them.  The tradition continues even though the two girls attend different schools this year.

Today we left the play area earlier than usual, the air smelled like rain, and indeed the timing is fortuitous:  on Succot we prayed for start of the rainy season in Israel, a land with a rich agricultural history and deep connection to the land.  And apparently G-d listened.

My first clue was that crisp smell in the air, my second clue was our cat Harry standing at the door and begging to go home, when he usually has to be dragged inside during the night.

The first rain of the season was glorious, and as we sat and watched the downpour, all our neighbors came out onto their porches as well, cheering and laughing and viewing nature's performance.  The three children of my neighbor, a woman who happens to be a friend from Boston, came outside despite their mother's protestations and began dancing in the rain, singing, "It's's pouring."

It's one of those Israeli moments, when you feel that we are all part of "one big family," united for the moment in pleasure and joy.

As a side note, I recently rescued this beautiful kitten and she now lives in our backyard and garden.  Harry would never let her in the house, he is not especially good at sharing his territory and his family.  She has arrived at that point where she could be adopted today into a family and thrive, and in a week or two from now she will become officially feral.  It kills me that she may fall ill from the sudden rain after she has come so far, any takers?

At the very least, the kitten can find shelter in the Succot on the streets of Jerusalem for the next few days, truly fortuitous.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

At exactly 7:50 am, Erev Succot, Raphaela turned four years old!
Happy birthday my sweet girl, you are beautiful inside and out.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Birthday Priorities

With Raphaela counting down the hours until her Hebrew birthday tomorrow, she asked me this morning when we would be making a birthday party at Gan. I explained to her that because all the school are currently on vacation, I would not arrange it with her teacher and with her English Camp  until after this series of Jewish holidays. I added that my parents, her grandparents, were due to visit in less than a month, and that I wanted to wait for them to arrive in Israel, so they could share in the fun of the event.

Raphaela looked at me very seriously and said, "But I get a present tomorrow, right?"

[For the record, I have bought her what my friend laughingly calls a "Mommy present," a set of educational playing cards whose devious plan is to teach reading and early math.  My daughter has already begun to read and loves books, and the cards feature some of her favorite fictional characters, so I know she will love it.]

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yom Kippur 2013

From "Selling the Fantasy of Fertility" by Miriam Zoll and Pamela Tsigdinos (New York Times 13/9/13)

"When it comes to assisted reproductive technologies, science fails far more often than is generally believed...Behind those failed cycles are millions of women and men who have engaged in a debilitating, Sisyphus-like battle with themselves and their infertility, involving daily injections, drugs, hormones, countless blood tests and other procedures...and leaves more scars than we are led to believe."

On the eve of Yom Kippur 2008, I suffered a serious miscarriage and understood that fertility treatment number six had failed. It sent me into a tailspin of anger and depression.  One year later almost to the day, my amazing and loving daughter was born, a true "tikkun" [Kabbalah term for cosmic repair] for the experience of the year before, bringing me a joy I could never have imagined.

And I want to say thank you.

On this day, before Yom Kippur 2013, I wish you all tikkun for the upcoming year, may we be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Literal Life

Raphaela, well trained in the art of not crossing the street at the red light, crossing the striped pedestrian's crossing yesterday, jumping from white stripe to white stripe.

When asked why she was putting in all this physical effort, she looked at me and reminded me that I had taught her only to cross "on the white stripes."  I gave her permission to also walk on the black stripes in between...


Getting dressed this morning, Raphaela advised me that today she felt like wearing the color green.  I took out an outfit from her drawer, a green skirt and her Green Eggs and Ham t-shirt, and she objected.

"Because," she began, "I am going to a new Gan, I must wear new clothing.  And I want to wear a skirt, but this skirt is not new. I have worn it before."

I explained that she had the choice of her green clothing or her new clothing, and that in this case they were mutually exclusive.  We went with Dr. Seuss in the end.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sometimes I forget that Raphaela is only four years old - Hebrew birthday next week - and that she has not grown up in a predominantly English speaking environment.

This morning she wanted to take half her toys and little chachkies to Gan, and I told her that she could choose a small selection of items, but that she was responsible for them, that if they got lost it was "on her head."

(I am particularly frustrated because since the beginning of Gan last week, I have sent her to school with Summer hats and all sorts of more important things that have simply disappeared without a trace.)

She looked at me, puzzled at the phrase, and started a monologue that had me laughing hysterically:  "On my head?  There isn't enough room on my head for all these toys and why would I put it there anyway? That makes about as much sense as saying 'on my foot'!  On my head? What does that mean, Mommy?"

Monday, September 9, 2013

Jerusalem of Gold

Early this morning, Raphaela joined me in feeding the local street cats.  On the way, we stopped at a lookout point where we can view Jerusalem in its early morning glory, and today there happened to be fluffy purple-pink clouds floating over the shiny golden city.

Raphaela asked me, "Who painted Jerusalem so beautifully this morning?"

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Only in Israel

This morning, walking to Gan, we stopped by one of the trees on our block and picked off some of the non-edible berries that hang off its branches.  Since Raphaela was really little, I have explained to her that we cannot eat everything that grows on trees and bushes, and she has given those particular seeds to the Angry Birds, so they won't be hungry.

At that moment, a white car drove by, and the man sitting in the passenger seat shouted out his window, "Mother, that is dangerous!  Make sure she doesn't put those in her mouth!" 

Holiday Jet Lag

Nothing like a four day Jewish holiday weekend, loaded with meals and social opportunities and going to sleep around midnight.

My daughter, whom I believe to be genetically programmed to wake up between five and five thirty am since the day she was born, learned the art of the sleep-in over Rosh Hashanah, staying in bed until almost seven am, gasp!  (It's a personal record!)

On her first day back to the routine of school this morning, Raphaela was sound asleep past seven, and no amount of purposeful yet gentle noise was enough to wake her. When her eyelids finally fluttered open, she pushed her curls out of her face, and with clear intent said two words [in Hebrew], "Lo Rotzah."  ["I don't want to get up!"]

She then promptly rolled over to the side I could not see and refused to get out of bed.

I concur, though I ultimately had to get us moving, and don't anticipate any easier a transition when they change the clocks.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

All I Needed to Know...

I learned from my child, and the Beatles

On Wednesday evening, as Raphaela and I were lighting candles for Rosh HaShanah, I explained to her that she would be receiving a extra-special blessing from me, and that this was a time that we could talk to Hashem [G-d] and ask for all sorts of things for the new year.

We adults, when we approach the task of Rosh HaShanah, come with an abnormally long laundry list.  We pray for the health and happiness of our family and friends, we hope for success in the professional realm and can already spend the money we will make on a series of material objectives.  As each year passes, human beings realize that there is more occurring around us that we cannot control, though we would like to, and it is hard to watch certain dreams slip away.

Here in Israel, we hope and pray that international politics do not make us open our gas mask kits, or force our children to have to run to bomb shelters in the middle of the school day.

An hour or so passed after my conversation with my daughter, and she became suddenly quiet.  When I asked her if anything was wrong, she replied, "I am thinking."

"About what?"  I asked.
"I am thinking about all the love Hashem will send my way this year."

It comes down to that, and it takes the unfiltered innocence of a little girl to see Truth.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Happy Jewish New Year 2013

This morning, while doing errands on our favorite street in Jerusalem (Palmach), I started singing;  both Raphaela and I start singing spontaneously when we are happy and relaxed.  Raphaela pulled on my arm and shouted, "Mommy, stop singing!"

I looked down at her and said, "Do you know why I sing?" She shook her head. "Because I see that it bothers you..." And I smiled.

Raphaela, my big little girl with a birthday in two weeks, burst out laughing.  Here we go, charging into the new Jewish year, and wishing all of you blessings and joy beyond imagination.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


This morning when we arrived at Gan, two other girls were busy playing in the kitchenette corner, and they had left a Bob the Builder doll on the "burners" of the pretend oven.

Raphaela, with a serious and concerned look on her face, tugged at my shirt and whispered to me, "Mommy, they are cooking Bob.  They are COOKING Bob!"

Saturday, August 31, 2013


Raphaela has always shown a depth of kindness and concern for others, and in the past, her nursery teachers have mentioned that she is "affectionate and sensitive." 

I never liked the word "sensitive," in my head it implies a fragile egg-shell quality, one which makes a person so reactive as to be inapproachable.  Some members of my family still believe this to be true about me, and often sugar coat rather than present me with straight forward honesty.

Note:  While pregnant, with a double dose of estrogen and other hormones coursing through my body, I did not become that bitchy emotional stereotype.  Actually each day brought more happiness and peace of mind; every time I threw up I thought to myself and smiled, "This means that it's working..."

Years of maturation, life experience and with the help of therapy, my inner strength and force of personality has managed to emerge, and I am happier and more balanced for it.  And while certain situations still make me feel nervous and attacked, that former me, the pushover introvert that I was throughout high school, has been permanently exorcised.

Today Raphaela and I watched a video on the New York Times site, "A Day in the Life of a Piano."  A series of stop-gap images, the trailer for the five minute clip warned that we should have tissues prepared for the conclusion (spoilers!).

Indeed, at that shocking moment, I burst out in tears and Raphaela, so horrified by the scene, ran out of the room sobbing.  Both of us "sensitive," and both us in extreme empathy for a lone piano on the sidewalk in New York City.

I would not have shown her that video had I known the ending.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New Gan III

Today, the second day of the new Gan, the parents had been told that there would be limited hours (8-11 AM) and that we should not expect to stay with the children past nine AM.  I arranged the whole morning's worth of errands around that schedule.

Raphaela and I arrived at Gan a little before eight AM, and within five minutes, my daughter took my hand, literally showed me the door, and said, "Mommy, get out of here!  I won't cry if you leave."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New Gan II

Headline, front page, this morning's Israeli papers (27/8/13)

The 2013-14 school year opens today:  2,129,562 children and youth start nursery and elementary school today
The Minister of Education says, "Today is a holiday, excitement is in the air."
The next vacation? Next Week [Rosh HaShanah]


For the past several days, Raphaela has been sleeping with her new back pack and water bottle, bought specially for the start of the new school year.  Last night she got ten hours of sleep, while I could not fall asleep until almost midnight because of nervous excitement. 

Raphaela's first day at the new Gan began with the security guard at the gate (Benni) handing each child a heart-shaped chocolate. Only in Israel...

Her class has 34 children, and she is one of the older children, one of the "first birthday parties of the year."  At least half of her classmates are bilingual Hebrew/English, and have at least one native English-speaking parent.

Three of her classmates from this past year join her, as well as two children from the Montessori Gan, which Raphaela attended for two years.  As well, three other children she knows will attend the afternoon English program.

The class room is bright and airy, and we spent the morning sampling the toys books and puzzles in every corner. I will admit that I had a few emotional moments, realizing that Raphaela has matured so much in the last year, and that today represents a milestone for both of us.

Raphaela has one energetic head teacher and two assistant teachers.  Normally there would be only one assistant nursery teacher, but because there are at least two children who have food sensitivities and allergies, they assigned a separate medically trained assistant teacher to the classroom.  It is the responsibility of the individual families, the Jerusalem Municipality and the nursery staff to make sure that no one goes into anaphylactic shock.

Given the recent push by the Ministry of Health for all children under the age of nine to receive the Oral Polio Vaccine, we explored the bathroom and I reminded Raphaela to be sure to wash her hands. It's natural, children in nursery will expose each other, and the more hygienic the safer.

The children participated beautifully in their first morning meeting, and the parents seems lovely as well.  We have already begun to organize a time-saving and aggravation- avoiding program:  to arrange for a healthy breakfast to be provided at the nursery and by the nursery, rather than having to pack a bag full of snacks each morning.

Indeed, today is a day of celebration for mothers and fathers (who briefly get their lives back, before the Jewish holidays) and for the kids, who get to meet a new group of friends and experience the routine they crave.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Israel Polio Scare II

After much deliberation, listening to the official Ministry of Health explanations and filtering out the useful information, I have come to understand that only children who have already had the dead (inactive) polio vaccine will be given the weakened live polio vaccine.  The live vaccine stays active for up to six weeks.

Before Raphaela's surgery around the age of two, I felt her immune system was too weak to handle the slew of vaccines regularly offered to children, and I did not finish the series.  Raphaela is, as someone said to me yesterday, "one of the unwashed masses for whom this hysteria has been initiated," so it appears that my daughter will be receiving the regular (IPV) vaccine instead.  I must protect her as best I can before she starts school and may be exposed to the live virus through contact with other children in the new Gan.

The weekend newspapers said that we Jerusalemites were terrible terrible people, with a compliance rate of only 2%.  They reported that all the nurses specifically hired to deliver the vaccine were sitting around, twiddling their thumbs in boredom.  The Ministry of Health threatened than any child not properly protected against the disease would not be allowed in school (which starts this Tuesday) for six weeks.  The New York Times featured a page two story about the spread of polio in third world countries, where politicians/dictators deny their population the vaccine.

Sufficiently frightened, I decided that I would take her to Tipat Chalav [the municipal Israeli Well-Baby Clinic system] on Sunday. After a brief work day, Raphaela and I drove to the nearest center, only to be greeted by parents and children overflowing into the street, numbers being assigned and the warning of at least a two hour wait.  We received number 484, and they were only in the mid 430's, and so we settled-in on the floor with my iPad and played games.

At a certain point a whole group of children were gathered around our iPad, and one of the mothers offered to exchange a food run for baby sitting, since I had completely neglected to bring any food for the long wait; I happily agreed to the deal.

Two and a half hours later, I explained to the nurse that my daughter (for reasons I did not wish to explain) actually needed to start the regular IPV series, rather than receive the live polio drops.  The nurse offered me a three for one bargain, she would consider putting in Hep A and Hep B at the same time, and I very firmly refused.  Research has shown that bundled vaccinations cause more damage than a stand-alone version.

All morning long, my amazing and intuitive child  had been asking me, "What is the doctor going to do to me?"  And I had dodged artfully.  Now she understood that she really wasn't going to enjoy this doctor's visit, and she started sobbing and running away, and hid in a corner of the room.  It took five minutes for me to immobilize her, and once the nurse injected the vaccine, I then allowed myself to cry with her.  Frankly, I am surprised you all didn't hear her screaming.

The nurse assured me that it will be "this craziness in Israel" for the next three months, and then invited me to come back after the Jewish holidays for her second dose.  The nurse suggested that maybe I should bring my husband next time, or an extra pair of hands for help.  (And presumably, my husband would not cry like I did?)    I was barely listening, just trying to get us both out of there so I could comfort Raphaela in private, and not scare the other children.

Then we went to the store and I got Raphaela a fantastic treat; as most parents will agree, bribery works.  But when I offered her a Chiropractic adjustment, something I regularly recommend to my clients after their children get vaccinated, she refused.