Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Family Matters

Israel celebrates two separate days in school, a version of Mother's Day and a more general Family Day, two truly lovely ideas.  When I picked up Raphaela from Gan yesterday - early, because she was complaining of pain in the ear - I saw a notice that requested that parents bring personal photos to be displayed during this period that they were exploring the concepts of family.

This always worries, that niggling feeling at the back of my head that says that some day, some child will be needlessly cruel to Raphaela and taunt her, "You don't have a father, nah nah nah nah nah..."  Or that some well meaning teacher in her years of nursery and elementary school will present our unique situation in a confusing way, one that makes Raphaela doubt herself for no reason.

With that in mind, I approached her teachers immediately and told them that they should feel free to consult with me, to understand how I speak to Raphaela about the issue and how I present it to others. I made it clear that Raphaela is thank G-d a happy child who knows that right now there is no male figure who resides in the house, that she knows she is loved and that there are all sorts of families, all valid in their approach.

To my delight, her teachers agreed with me on all counts, that Raphaela has never expressed sadness or confusion, that they see her as a happy and well-adjusted child; furthermore, they added that they had already spoken to the manager of the Gan, who had instructed them to present all family options as normal and loving and real.

Impressive for a religious Gan, though I think it helps that the manager (a Chardal mother of nine) has a sister who has followed the JSMBC route, and is thus well acquainted with the process and the joy that comes from children, no matter where they come from.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Daily Dose of Mister Rogers

I watched too much television as a child, spent hours and hours with the virtual baby sitter, and perhaps as an adult it has helped me to be more careful about how I spend my time, not squandering time in front of the screen. 

There were two shows to which I became particularly attached, the first, The Carol Burnett Show.  The humor was completely adult and flew over my head, but I felt comforted by her presence, she taught me about humor.

The second, more importantly, was Mister Rogers.  An outstanding soul, Fred McFeely Rogers represented warmth and support and a consistent person in my life, more significantly than usual when my parents were divorcing, when I became "that poor sad child" among the whispers of a Jewish community that did not deal well with the then new phenomenon of upheaval in families.

Of course today, with a 60% divorce rate and all sorts of alternative family situations, no one blinks, but at the time, it was a huge stigma and left me socially isolated.

As a single mother raising a child in Israel, where anything goes and no day is predictable, some days turn out better than others;  recently I discovered a one and a half minute clip on youtube which has become part of my daily routine.  If you google "Mister Rogers Farewell," he speaks to my generation, the one that grew up with him as a teacher, role model and friend.  He looks into the camera and I feel like he is actually looking at me and through me, talking to me and no one else.  He says those words that resonate because they have been programmed inside me, words that strengthen my inner voice even I am not aware.

Mister Rogers, long gone from this physical plane, still makes me feel good about myself, and I bless him for it.

If you want to laugh and cry and smile at the same time, if this special man meant something to you as a child, listen to him once again and you will gain more than you can imagine.  Then, just for kicks, search for "Mister Rogers Remix," and your inner child and highest voice will laugh once again.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Good Advice

This morning while doing pre-Shabbat errands, I bumped into a mother whose child had been at the previous Montessori Gan with Raphaela.  We compared notes, and I mentioned that I had made certain decisions for Raphaela, large and small, that in hindsight were so obviously stupid.  I castigated myself because I hadn't seen what should have been immediately true and obvious.

This woman, a mother of three, comforted me, saying, "Your oldest child is like the first pancake in the batch.  You will make mistakes, you will burn the edges, but you learn from it. I guarantee you that the mistakes you may or may not have made with Raphaela will never be repeated, because now you know better."

Thank you, my friend, thank you.  Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Israeli Election Day 2013

Because of the Knesset elections, all public institutions - Gan, the post office, banks, government offices - are closed and the day has become a middle-of-the-week holiday.  Many people went traveling up North, and based upon the news report I saw on television last night, a large number of these citizens don't particularly care to end their vacation early in order to vote.

As a political science major at Barnard College and as a human being who generally throws herself gladly into the arena of Democracy, I think this voter apathy is a shame and an embarrassment.  These same families who choose a hike over the gift of choosing the next Prime Minister will be the first to complain once the election ends.

The Israeli system can seem baffling if you have grown up with the American version of voting.  First off, it is considered most impolite and practically a violation of your personal rights if you ask a person whether he voted for Obama or Romney;  but on the streets of Jerusalem this morning, every conversation in which I was involved or overheard started with the sentence, "So, who got your ballot today?" With a 15% Undecided coming into the elections, that question became much more interesting than usual.

Secondly, America pretends at direct elections, but then starts with the bullshit of the Electoral College, compounded by Blue and Red states.  So for example, when I voted this past November, it didn't really matter because I am registered in Massachusetts, Seriously Blue territory, and it was obvious that Obama would take the state and its delegates even if no one showed up at the polls.

In Israel they have direct elections in the sense that you vote for a party list.  You cannot choose the list per se, though as a registered member of a party you can vote in the primaries.  A designated price per seat is assigned, and literally each vote is counted toward that goal;  private deals have been negotiated for the 'spare change' so to speak.  In order to sit in the Knesset, your party must receive enough votes to account for at least two mandates out of 120;  if you fail to pass the threshold, your party disappears into oblivion.

The party with the most seats almost automatically gets the nod for forming the government, which then deteriorates into an ugly and expensive series of back room meetings, until the sitting government can claim a majority of at least 61 out of the total 120 seats.

The procedure itself dates back to the Byzantine Era, you stand behind a flimsy piece of card board, you choose a little piece of paper that represents your list and put it in a blue envelope.  The blue envelope goes into a blue box, and at the end of voting at ten pm, a bunch of really dedicated and really tired people count them by hand.

Based upon recent polls, Netanyahu's sitting Likud-Russian Mafia party will most surely receive the most seats, although less than they had anticipated.  They will then most likely form their majority government with other similar leaning parties (The Jewish Home), at least one despicable Ultra Orthodox party (Shas), and maybe, if they have the balls, one Center-Left party (Yair Lapid, Labour). In other words, silly business as usual.

For myself, I quite enjoyed the day off with Raphaela, we walked in the spectacular Summer-like weather to the voting station; sat at our favorite bakery and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast; Mommy got a haircut while Raphaela cooperated more than I ever imagined;  and then we went to the mall and bought our weekly groceries.  We spent the afternoon playing together and taking walks around the neighborhood, grabbing the sun shine wherever we could find it.

Raphaela has become such an active and real person, she has a brilliant sense of humor (for a three year old) and a calm happy disposition.  I feel like I won the biggest lottery in the Universe, and I am thankful for the time we had today to spend with each other.

Monday, January 21, 2013

This morning as we walked to Gan,
Raphaela:  Mommy, do you know what the guys at Gan are saying?
Mommy:  What are the guys saying?
Raphaela:  They are saying, "Hooray, Raphaela is on the way to Gan!"

(If I don't say it often enough, thank you G-d for the blessing of this happy self-assured child. Pthoo phtoo phtoo...)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Testing, testing...123!

When Raphaela was all of two days old, she showed a remarkable intelligence and awareness of how to manipulate the system.  I had just fed her and had dropped her off at the nursery in Hadassah Hospital, where she and the other 30 babies were meant to sleep for the night.

Fifteen minutes later, a frenzied call came over the loudspeaker: "Ms. Leeder, Ms. Leeder, come to the nursery immediately, your child is crying very loudly!"  When I arrived, the nurse scolded me, saying, "The child is obviously hungry."

I assured the nurse that I had just fed her, and that besides, two day old babies live off their post-birth fat so she couldn't be all that hungry.  In order to not wake up the other sleeping infants, they asked me to try to nurse.  I sat down in one of the comfy chairs, didn't even have the chance to pull up my shirt, and Raphaela fell asleep on my chest.

Lesson learned, crying gets Mommy, especially when the nurses want the rest of the children to sleep, and when Mommy is so new at the job.

Fast forward to last week, we scheduled a play date with one of Raphaela's friends from her previous Gan.  All was going well, when the other girl's behaviour deteriorated rapidly, she started to cry and complain of the cold, she became clingy and demanded that her mother take her home.

At the time, I thought this event could be filed under Anomaly.

Yesterday, Raphaela and I had plans for lunch with one of our closest friends.  The girls have grown up together literally since birth. On the walk, Raphaela chatted happily about all the thing they would do, all the games they would play and how excited she was to see them.  As soon as we walked in the door, Raphaela started crying, "I want to go home Mommy! Mika is not my friend!  My leg hurts and I want to go home."

At first I thought that she had been hurt somewhere in our seemingly innocuous walk through the sunny streets of Jerusalem.  I asked her, "Raphaela, are you sad? Are you angry?  Show me where it hurts.  Tell me why you want to go home."

She puckered up her lips, much like she looked when she was first born and resting on my stomach after the first major event in her life, and cried out, "I want to go home because I want to go home!"

Could be that I misinterpreted this almost obvious manipulation and power play, but I decided that Raphaela cannot learn that our plans go to Hell in a hand basket whenever she feels like it.  I told her that she was perfectly free to sit in the corner and cry all she wanted, and that I was going to attempt to enjoy the time with our friends.

And cry she did.  And kick and sob, for close to an hour.  My friends whose daughter is the same age understood, though it certainly dampened the atmosphere.  We left after an hour and a half, and I wondered if Raphaela needs counselling for...Fear of Play Dates.

I must admit that I felt some resentment as well, I rarely enjoy grown-up time with friends, and rather than play with her mate, she chose to ruin it for all of us.  At the time that she was throwing the mother of all temper tantrums, I wished someone would just step in and tell me why.

(Post script:  About one minute after we left our friends' house, Raphaela said to me, "Mommy, I don't want to be cry, I want to be happy."  About one and half minutes after we left our friends' house Raphaela announced that she was happy once again.  When we got home, she was singing and playing as if nothing at all had happened.)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Gold Fish of Doom

There comes a time in every child's life when they learn the hardest lesson of all, gold fish either thrive or float fairly quickly.  I can distinctly remember the aquarium in the bedroom my brother and I shared as small kids;  we once went away for a Shabbat weekend and when we returned, the fish had somehow jumped out of the tank, must have flown gloriously for one brief moment, and then realized that there might be more oxygen outside, but there is NO water.  

Raphaela loves animals and a new pet store just opened near our house and the library.  Today we went to the store, checked out the hamsters and the birds, and took home four sprightly gold fish and a cleaner fish, to slightly increase the chances that they might live more than one month.  In fact, the owner told me quietly that they sell at the price of four fish for ten NIS, and that if one of the original four should be found napping, I am more than welcome to replace it, hopefully before Raphaela notices.

I feel conflicted, a part of me knows that Raphaela can learn the lesson of life and death in a soft way, via the doomed fish experiment. After all, their fates are sealed pretty much from the start.  On the other hand, as her mother I want to protect her from repetitive sadness.

In that case, I probably should not have gotten gold fish...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Wisdom of the Unfettered Soul

This morning, after dropping off Raphaela at Gan, one of the other mothers and I were talking and she said, "I wish I could spend all day playing with my friends and coloring."

It reminded me of a conversation I had years ago, with my youngest brother, now 25 years old but then Raphaela's age and in nursery school.  I had come home for a Shabbat weekend from college, and we were walking together; I asked him what he does in nursery each day.

YL (Age 3.5):  We color and we play and we have nap time.
Me:  Wow, I wish I could go back in time and be a kid again, and spend the day playing.
YL:  You will, you will come back after you get very old and you will be a child again, in a Mommy's tummy.
Me:  (Thinking, "Well that's a progressive nursery if they teach reincarnation.") But what if I don't remember that I wanted to come back to simpler times and appreciate the chance to play?
YL: (Age 3.5 going on Guru)  Don't worry, your soul remembers.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Psychological Transference

In a few days, several of my relatives on my mother's side - aunts and uncles and cousins - will arrive in Israel on vacation and will be based in Jerusalem.  I am more excited than words can express.

This morning I received an email from one of my first cousins who has a son approximately the same age as Raphaela, and as I considered the possibility of the two of us spending time with our extended family, my mind lurched into fantasy land.  I imagined not just hanging out for a meal or two, but also having at least some of them come see my house and Raphaela's Gan, maybe sitting at my favorite local coffee shop with them and feeling like they have a true insight into my day-to-day life in this country.

I often find it difficult that not only do I not have a husband, not only do I not have any immediate blood relatives in the country as an emotional safety net and as baby sitters; but that no one knows or appreciates Raphaela as deeply and richly as I do as her mother, and as the only person who spends each day watching her develop and grow.  I have stopped counting the times when Raphaela says or does something marvelous and I want to share the moment with someone, and then I think to myself, "No one else would really understand why this makes me so happy."

I must be realistic, my relatives have come to Israel for a break from their lives and have planned many tourist-like excursions that do not include massive amounts of time with us.  They probably don't have the inclination to randomly visit Raphaela's Gan, and why should they, it is not their child or grandchild. 

In all this gloomy ruminating this morning, I realized that my enthusiasm to embrace others into my life comes from that vacuum of not having my parents or siblings on the same continent.  And while the sadness and regret is not sufficient to make me even consider moving back to the United States, I know that I must temper my expectations for my aunts and uncles and cousins, and be thankful for whatever quality time we do experience.

Nature vs. Nurture

Four times in the last 48 hours has the following statement been said to me, "You are such an American!"

It was actually not my American-accented and yet high level of Hebrew that tipped them off, but rather the multiple opportunities I have had to take initiative where an instant and efficient solution was demanded, and my subsequent action in which I made the lives of strangers a little easier.

OK, so the bossy taking-initiative behaviour could be that of a New Yorker or an Israeli; and helping out a stranger in need?  That strikes me as being humanitarian at the very least, plus the Jewish tradition spends a lot of time preaching about taking care of the stranger and showing kindness to others.

Over the years, I have witnessed remarkable kindness performed by Israelis, with no ulterior motives.

I am at a loss to understand how my approach to other human beings qualifies me distinctly as an American.  Who can say how much of my choices come from my upbringing within my own family and my personal life experiences, rather than geography and the place I was born and lived until my mid 20's.

Furthermore, I can only hope to pass on positive and absolutely basic human values to Raphaela, that every person deserves to feel good about themselves and to receive the benefit of the doubt.

I am inclined to think that the statement was meant for the most part as a complement, because the cashier at the supermarket - an Ethiopian woman who has known me for many years - told the woman I was assisting at the time, "Let her help you, she is one of the good ones."

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gan Registration Riot

As I do not personally trust technology for the important stuff, I went down to the Jerusalem Municipality this morning to register Raphaela for Gan next year in person, rather than the suggested Internet site.

While the office itself opened at 8:30 am, many parents including myself chose to arrive much earlier in order to get a number and be one of the first to receive assistance.  I arrived at 7:45 and there were already 15 people ahead of me...handing out an old fashioned piece of paper and a pencil.  You see, Israel with all its technological prowess, did not think to test the system before the onslaught of the first day of processing, and so the number machine (which runs on Windows) was not functioning, and there was no one person there who actually knew how to repair it.

After close to a half hour of random attempts, the number computer was up and running, and by that time there were close to 50 parents clamoring at the door.

Once we got inside, it became clear that the computers for the registration process itself had also not been tested and prepped before hand, and miraculously, the only stations that were working were those that helped the Chareidi (Ultra-Orthodox) community.  That's right, all the computers attached to the same network and the same Internet cables;  and while the "regular" (ie taxpaying, army-serving, non contentious) Israelis had to wait almost an hour to register their children, the Chareidim were zipping in and out without a care, because they know the Big Secret:  G-d really does like them better.

Needless to say, it didn't take long before all of us sitting and waiting began grumbling the same chorus, "Those damn Chareidim, they take full advantage of the system and couldn't care less if the heretical Jewish State crumbles, and they get better service than the rest of us, every time."  I would not have been comfortable as a Chareidi at that moment, I half expected parents to start a riot and demand that we get equal time on the few functional computers in the room

Thankfully, I had received lucky number 13 and had a relatively short wait, and blessed be, walked home from the center of town in the sun and warmth that we in Jerusalem had not experienced since last week before the start of the deluge of rain and the snow.  It was so hot that I even took off my coat.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The New York-Israel Snow Divide

Clearly, my daughter is a sabra, born in Jerusalem and Israeli to the core.  I shall explain:  When I was a child growing up on the East Coast, my brother and I would eagerly await a snow day, and not just because it meant no school.  We would wake up as early as possible in the morning, put on our toasty outfits in order to be the first to make angels in the "Virgin Snow."  (Yes, we called it Virgin Snow because that is what my mother named it, and no, we had no idea regarding the actual connotation of the word.)

It took much bribery after several hours of snow play to get us back in the house, we barely noticed the temperature.

This morning, a beautiful white soft blanket covered Jerusalem, and Raphaela and I woke up at our usual early hours, before six am.  We snuggled in bed for a bit, and Raphaela made plans for major snow family action, "First we will build a SnowMommy, then a SnowDaddy and then a SnowBaby!" Chock full of enthusiasm, we got dressed and went outside to experience Jerusalem's virgin snow; indeed,  we were the first footprints of the day.  I, the grown up in the story, jumped in the snow with delight, picked up the perfect the snowball material and started to form our Snow Beings.

We assiduously avoided areas with large tree cover, as I could hear and see large heavy branches cracking and breaking because of the weight of the snow. Contrary to my usual Type A personally trait, I was barely phased by the fact that my car seemed to be buried by the great exploding willow tree in the back of the building.  After all, how could I accurately asses any damage until the snow stopped and started to melt around my automobile?

And who cares if my patients and my facial treatment cannot happen today, there is snow, real true fluffy East Coast snow in Jerusalem!

My daughter, after approximately five minutes in the snow, started begging to go back inside.  The snow family plans were canceled, and now that we know for certain that she does not have Gan today, she has adamantly refused to even consider leaving the house, ever, until the snow stops for good.

Non Snow Day

So school ended early today, and what a waste; as of 6 pm Israel Standard Time, there is no snow to be seen, only sharp winds accompanied by rain and intermittent hail stones.  A friend of mine cleverly called it "The Emporer's New Snow."

No matter, Raphaela and I spent a quality afternoon together.

While playing a game of pretend with a pair of Sloth Monkeys (Diego and Dora, don't ask...) I overheard the conversation she had with her imaginary friends:

Sloth Monkeys:  We like to eat leaves.
Raphaela:  Look, my Mommy made me tea because it is raining outside. (Pause, as if the Sloth Monkeys are responding) Yeah, my Mom is really cool!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

It's Raining, It's Pouring

Growing up in the States, I took water for granted; my parents house in Boston has a small forest, a lake and waterfall practically in their back yard.  Living in Israel these past 16 years, my attitude and awareness has shifted, because each citizen acutely feels the lack of water and regular rain fall, except for certain periods in the Winter.

This past week has already broken all sorts of rainfall records, and the Kinneret Lake which has suffered with various "Red Lines" in the last ten years stands at an all-time high.  My Chiropractic conference in Tel Aviv was canceled today, because of the flooding of the major Ayalon highway and the threat of country-wide snow. 

On the way to Gan this morning, Raphaela and I sat in the car for ten minutes, waiting for a break in the hail stones;  all educational institutions in Jerusalem will close today at noon, so everyone can get home and get tucked into a nice warm house.  My daughter can't wait to play in the snow with her new pink boots that we bought last week, just in time for the storm.

Even funnier, and somehow the game has become comforting to me, the Israeli radio stations have attuned their programs to the weather outside, and so most songs this morning contained the words "rain," "storm," and "snow."

The Israeli experience is by no means easy, but it is home, a wet and cold  and happy one at the moment.  Come join us and jump in the abundant puddles.

Monday, January 7, 2013

And the Universe Answers

Just in case you wondered, very often you ask a question and if you listen carefully, the Universe answers you, quite directly in fact.

 For the past few weeks, I have been contemplating a request by the Israel Chiropractic Society (ICS), to become the new Vice President on the Executive Board.  Normally, when I cannot immediately answer "Yes" or "No," it means "No" and I am simply not ready to commit out loud; that has been the case here, and with the semi-annual meeting of the ICS in only two days, I must let the elections board know my final decision.

I carried these thoughts with me this evening, when I attended a gathering of the Israel Barnard College alumnae, in a beautiful hall overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.  The featured speaker happened to be one of my former Political Science professors, Flora Davidson, who spoke about the (slowly) rising role of women in US politics, on all levels of legislation.  Davidson quoted research which discussed the "ambition factor" ie that men tend to posses more of the self-starter characteristics, whereas women wait to be invited into the system.  And if that woman happens to be unmarried, or past her sexual prime, her entry into elected office will be much smoother than a woman at the height of her profession, a relatively younger woman juggling family responsibilities and career.

After the lecture itself, I was able to speak privately to Professor Davidson and Dean Dorothy Denburg, also in attendance;  I joked that this intellectual input came at the perfect time, as I was engineering my own political insteps within the Israeli Chiropractic community.  I laid out my issues and concerns to my former teachers, and without fuss they agreed that as a single parent of a toddler and as a working mother, "this is not the time" to spread myself even thinner, by taking on the responsibility of growing my profession in the Middle East.

In fact, I was pleased to hear it, because the message of Barnard College that I received as a student was that women can achieve anything they wish, and that family or personal life will not suffer if a woman chooses to pursue her success in the outside world.  I say it now, it's not true, no one can get everything they want without some element of their life falling short, and it's high time that we debunk this aspect of the feminist agenda.

Ambition or confidence is most definitely not the issue here, I know for a fact that I am the best candidate for  VP and that I would contribute in a substantial way;  when I commit to a cause, I commit 1000%.  Realistically speaking, however, I don't know that I would be able to properly fulfill my duties and attend meetings regularly, as I would want to and as my colleagues deserve;  I barely left the house tonight because of a baby sitter snafu, and last I checked, the day contains only 24 hours.

My time will come, and meanwhile I have pledged to take on ICS "Special Projects," without the official title as a member of the Board.

Until four years ago, my Chiropractic career and clinical practice sat at the center of the focus of my life.  The moment after her birth I held Raphaela for the first time, and I thought to myself, "Right now, nothing else matters."  Even though being a first-time Mom made me feel frustrated and stupid and happy and tired all at the same time, I am content to wait a while to conquer the world, and watch my child grow.  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

During a crying jag this afternoon, Raphaela suddenly stopped herself, felt her cheeks and said, "Mommy, I have rain drops coming from my eyes!"

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Nice American

I dislike confrontation and try not to hurt other people's feelings;  what my Israeli friends mockingly call "American politeness."  Even after 16 years of living in this country,  I will yell if necessary in order to accomplish a specific goal, but will then feel physically ill from the stress it causes inside me.

Most parents of toddlers will tell you, children this age have a magical moment, a second in time where they switch from "Happy" and "Well Behaved" to "Irrational" and "Bad Listeners."  If you as a parent learn the signs, you can head off disaster at the pass; miss that window and you will need a stiff drink by the end of the evening.

At the beginning of this week, Raphaela was enjoying a play date with a friend from Gan when that time arrived, and in my most polite and American way possible, I suggested that we leave.  The hostess, whose company I was also enjoying, begged us to stay a bit longer, that she would prepare a light dinner for the girls so we could have more time to hang out, and I reluctantly agreed. (That whole not hurting feelings thing, especially with a new connection...)

Raphaela more or less made it through the play date, but once we got home it was a parenting nightmare.  I resolved not to be so "nice" the next time.

Last night, at the house of another playmate, it was not I but rather the other mother who abruptly cut short our visit a bit before six pm, explaining that her daughter had not napped and that she could see the signs of impending collapse.  I appreciated her honesty and her sensibility, thanked her for their hospitality, and took Raphaela home.