Monday, May 27, 2013

Night and Day

This morning after dropping off Raphaela at Gan, another mother approached me, a parent of one of the "doctors" from yesterday's incident.  She could barely look me in the eye and explained that she had had a long talk with her son, that she understood from him that the game had been done in the spirit of innocence and with consent from all the kids involved.  She apologized profusely, and I told her while I was quite shocked by the appearance of Raphaela's stomach, I certainly didn't blame her or her child for any sort of uncontrolled or malicious behaviour.

We hugged, and we both agreed that we trusted the management of the nursery school to properly handle the lessons that could be gained from this experience.  The manager told me that they have already conducted an extensive review of the safety of the play space outside, and the Head Teacher will be performing a play with puppets for the children, entitled, "My Private Body."

In my head, I compare my feelings to last year, when I defended my daughter from one of the boys in her previous Gan, a child who all year bullied and tortured his classmates.  At the previous Montessori educational institution, not only did I get blamed and in fact get banned; not only did the manager of the Gan continually ignore my pleas and the concerns of other parents regarding the state of perpetual violence;  the parents of this boy certainly did not apologize, unless you count them threatening to report me (!) to the police.

Night and day...

You mean THIS scratch?

When I picked up Raphaela today from Gan, she seemed her usual self, happy to see me and tell me about her day as we walked home.  I happened to notice a new small scratch on her nose, and asked (without leading) how she had gotten scratched.

Her response?  She lifted up her shirt and said, "Oh, do you mean THIS scratch?"  Across her entire  stomach were three large red inflamed scratches, as if she had been side-swiped by a lion, no exaggeration.

In shock, and knowing that it couldn't wait until tomorrow, we turned around and returned to the nursery school, whereupon I showed the wound to the manager of the Gan.  She immediately called over Raphaela's teacher, and we all did a "walk through" of the play area where the event took place.  After much searching, Raphaela picked up a thin piece of bamboo from the sand box, and explained that she and two other boys had been "playing Doctor," the two boys were the doctors and she was the patient and they "fixed her."  (Some vague illusion to the Chiropractic adjustment?)

It did not calm me at all to know that at some point my child may have been unsupervised, or that she felt it was normal to get scratched as long as it was part of a game they were all enjoying.  General apologies abounded, and Raphaela and I went home because I did not want to put her through any more stress regarding this story.  At home I sterilized the area and rubbed in anti-biotic cream, and hopefully her bath will make it better as well.

I am feeling various emotions at the moment, angry because the scratch under Raphaela's eye seems to be disappearing too slowly for my taste, and may even scar; this took place over two months ago by another girl in the class known as The Scratcher, which implies a certain level of lack of control and malice.   I don't want my daughter to have any further battle markings from nursery school, no matter how "acceptable" it is within the Israeli school system to experience base line violence.

And yet I give her Gan credit, within the past hour I have gotten calls from both her teachers and from the manager herself, all of them sounding quite perturbed, all of them swearing to clarify the situation and rectify it as much as possible.  The Head Teacher plans on having a talk tomorrow with all the children in the class, defining clearly the boundaries of play, and reinforcing the fact that no one has the right to touch our bodies in inappropriate ways.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Good News/Bad News

Bad News?  We are down to two fish in the tank, three goldfish brothers (sisters?) have passed on.
Good News?  Raphaela does not seem to notice the dwindling numbers, which gives me time to go to the pet store and get replacements.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

As Jerusalem heats up - they are expecting temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius on Friday - I took Raphaela to our local favorite Jerusalem bakery today after Gan.  I ordered my usual, an ice coffee, and Raphaela chose her favorite, passion fruit ices and two chocolate chip cookies.

As we walked home, Raphaela asked me, "Mommy, isn't it true that it is good to share?"  I answered in the enthusiastic affirmative, at which point Raphaela gave me "the look," IE hand over the ice coffee before someone gets hurt.

I walked right into that one. who says that children don't know how to work the system?

Your Wish is My Command

Now that the streak of Jewish holidays has ended until the Fall more or less, the teachers at Raphaela's Gan have introduced a unit on expressing feelings.  First they dealt with fear and now have moved onto happiness. According to a TED lecture that I watched recently, our perception of happiness depends upon our memory of an event, rather than the actual experience at the time; and while money cannot buy happiness, lack of funds will most definitely decrease life satisfaction.  The TED lesson concluded that the most important factor determining happiness is social interactions with loving and supportive people.

(I have become a addict, it expands my mind and challenges me intellectually for the first time since I attended Barnard College.)

 They took a Nursery Gallup Poll, asking each of the children what made them happy, and Raphaela answered, "I love when my Mommy takes me to the zoo."

The zoo makes me happy as well!  Inspired, after Gan we spontaneously drove to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, despite the fact that I had not done my usual preparations of snacks and a picnic dinner.  We even got a kick ass parking spot right at the entrance.

When we returned home, a stimulated Raphaela had a hard time falling asleep;  she sat in bed and talked to herself, occasionally shouting to ask if I could come and keep her company. I finally convinced Raphaela to close her eyes, and before I got into bed, crept into her room and kissed her lightly on the cheek.  Practically snoring one minute, my magical kiss woke the princess out of her sleep.  With a huge smile and sparkling eyes, her curls bouncing, she said, "Mommy, you took a long time coming to bed!  I was waiting for you for such a long time so I took a small nap.  But now I am all rested and we can talk and play!" 

Groan...not what I wanted to hear, and yet so hard to resist her joyfulness. It took another hour for Raphaela to settle in for the evening.

As a side note, I was particularly amused by some of the responses of the other children in Raphaela's class, my favorite? The little girl who said it would make her happy if her parents took her to the doctor's office. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Next Generation

This morning at her usual hour of 5:30, Raphaela woke up and in a state of semi-delirium said, "Where's the ipad?"

I looked at her and said, "Really?  First thing out of your mouth? How about 'Good morning' or 'Hello Mommy' or even 'What can I have for breakfast'?"

Raphaela shrugged a bit and explained, "But I have to say good morning to Bob the Builder!"

I fear for the Tech Generation.

Close Encounters

For my normal weekly grocery shop I drive to the Industrial Area in Talpiyot (Jerusalem), because it is cheaper overall.  But yesterday we found ourselves at the local overpriced supermarket, picking up a few random food stuffs.  As Raphaela and I canvased the aisles, we encountered her former (negligent ) Nursery Teacher from the Montessori Gan.

The woman broke out in a smile, hugged Raphaela and babbled for about five minutes, "Oh my, how much you've grown, it's amazing! Are you still taking swimming lessons? Do you like this supermarket?" Etc.  Then she extended an odd invitation for Raphaela to come visit her old Gan anytime she likes, that they all miss her so much and would be happy to see the new and improved IE talkative/happier/thriving version of my daughter.

("S" in obvious denial of our negative experience by her hands...)

Raphaela retreated, hugged my leg and quietly asked me, "Who is this woman?"

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Raphaela's skills at phonics and basic reading continue to grow, but I am not pushing her; I want it to be a completely voluntary and enjoyable evolution.

Home for Shavuot today, while reading many many books together, Raphaela at a certain point expressed amazement and admiration, "Mommy, how did you learn to read everything?"

Life Lessons

This past week, Raphaela had a play date, during which (among other things) the girls played with play dough.  I will admit that because of remnants of my own control issues, combined with my artistic aesthetic, cannot stand when the dough gets mixed and turns into a murky dull brown color.  In my life, I love being surrounded by bright clear tones.

The other girl enthusiastically created a pizza out of several of the containers of play dough, and while it bothered me I said nothing, because I did not want to interrupt their fun.

Several days later alone with Raphaela, she became very sad and angry because she realized that what was done could not be undone; and Raphaela like me does not like dull brown play dough.  The anger came out toward her friend and she asked me indignantly, "Why did she do that to my play dough?  Why did she ruin it? I am going to put her in the garbage pail!"

(The "garbage pail" is the new phrase for anything or any one that makes Raphaela sad or frustrated.  The current residents of the garbage include mosquitoes and a woman who hit our car when we were leaving Gan.)

I calmly explained to Raphaela that she needs to express herself more clearly when something bothers her, that if she feels uncomfortable from something her friends or her teachers or other adults are doing, she has every right to say, "Stop! I don't like this!"

We practiced assertiveness in several imaginary situations, and hopefully this experience will provide my daughter tools to stand up for herself and her best interests, especially in Israeli society where weakness is more likely to be exploited.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Journey to the Old City

On the actual Jerusalem Day I had planned to go to the Old City but did not, opting to perform vital house errands (post office, bank, supermarket) instead.  This morning I took off two hours and walked - rather limped, because of my sprained calf muscle - from my house to the Old City, following a path so ingrained in my mind that I could do it with my eyes closed.

I went to the Western Wall and had a very serious chat with G-d.  With my recent rising level of stress, and feeling somewhat abandoned by those who should be supportive of me, to whom else can I turn other than the Ultimate Being, the "Man (or Woman) with the Plan" so to speak.  It can be argued that the concept of a powerful all-knowing Deity is a man-made construct, imagined to help us feel better when our world goes to Hell. 

I personally believe in a greater pattern to the Universe, I know that I and my daughter must have some role and purpose, and I am sure that I am not privy to the larger picture.  I have a much better relationship with G-d than I do with organized religion, and I admit, it felt comforting to touch the stones of the wall and insert my little note in the cracks between the rocks. 

Once I start thinking that no one is listening and nothing can help, I will lose hold of my hope.  As Bruce Lee said, "No one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality."

The last time I had such an intense spiritual experience at the Western Wall was the week before the fertility treatment that resulted in the birth of Raphaela.

As long as I had the time blocked off in my schedule, I also took the opportunity to revisit the spots I had not seen in years.  Wading through the extreme tourist groups, so much had changed, so many revitalized buildings and yet I felt like the Old City exists out of time and space, a patch of country unrelated to any other neighborhood in Jerusalem, or in Israel for that matter.

I stood in my hallowed spot, an area in which four or five stones dating back to the Second Temple sit undisturbed in the newer sidewalk, among the modernity of the cafes, pizza shops, tourist traps and money changing stores.  A place where ancient meets modern, where history meets The Now.  I recalled my naive enthusiasm and unfiltered Zionism, all the motivation I had to move to Israel 16 years ago and build my life here.

What did I pray for today?  Some of that is personal, but mostly I asked for Love and Abundance and Health, and for a sign that I will have that chance to fulfill my dreams of being happy and raising my daughter here in Israel.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Yesterday afternoon, Raphaela had a play date with one of her closest friends from Gan this year.  As the girls were playing together in the next room, the mother said to me, "You know, I have noticed that since these two have become friends, Raphaela has become much more assertive and my daughter has become much more polite!"

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Kibbutz Life, City Style

At the back of our building grows a boysenberry tree, and each year we wait patiently for the berries to bloom and ripen.  This year, because of the astounding amount of rain during the Winter, the tree is bursting with fruit.

For several weeks Raphaela and I would check the tree each morning on the way to Gan, to see if the green had turned to purple.  Now each morning we go outside at the start of the day, and after feeding the street cats, we pick the ripe berries and add it to our breakfast regimen.  No pesticides, all natural sweet boysenberries.

On Shabbat morning yesterday, we took a walk and saw a father arrive with his three sons, all of them in cloth hats and holding baskets, reminiscent of the children's book, "Blueberries for Sal."  We watched as these boys and their father climbed the tree to the highest branch, filling their baskets for a special Shabbat treat.  Raphaela and I joined in for a bit, picking some fruit and eating it on the spot, while I chatted with the father about life, Israel and everything.

I can understand the appeal of that classic Israeli Kibbutz life style, people working together in the fields toward a common goal, sitting together at dinner as a community, supporting one another. I know that model no longer exists, if only in the annuls of the early history of Israel as a country, and it's a shame.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Yom Yerushalaim 2013

In honor of Jerusalem's birthday, Raphaela's Gan constructed a miniature version of the Western Wall and her class placed their notes, expressing their wishes for themselves and the nation.  I smiled and in certain cases laughed at the directness and honesty of children this age. 

"I wish for health for all children."
"I wish for health for my mother and father."
"I pray for the coming of the Messiah and the building of the Third Temple in Jerusalem."
"I wish for G-d to keep us all safe."

"I wish for G-d to give me ice cream."
"I want my parents to buy me juice from the supermarket."
"I wish for treats and waffles."
"I hope they have a fireworks display on Jerusalem's birthday."

"I want a baby brother or sister."

And my daughter, "I hope that this day brings Jerusalem much good fortune."

Raging Against the Machine

I rarely actively discuss politics in this blog, but for everything there is a season.  MK Yair Lapid recently garnered a surprisingly huge amount of mandates by promising to ease the burden the poor and the so-called middle class within Israeli society; "Together we can make a difference," blah blah blah.  Notoriously good looking and vapid, Lapid received the portfolio  of the Ministry of Finance, despite the fact that he has never received his BA, has no background in economics and has never successfully run a company.

From my Barnard College background in political science, it was fairly easy to predict how this dilettante would solve the budget crisis:  he would raise taxes, because he lacks the education and sophistication to come up with a more thought out solution.  In today's paper, Lapid announced that he would raise the VAT (again) to 18%, institute across-the-board tax increases for all elements of the population, give parents less money for the children's subsidy, increase school fees and eliminate nursery school discounts instituted only this February 2013, and cancel all sorts of tax exemptions for tourists, the bread and butter of the Israeli economy.  As well, housewives, those women who have the gall to stay home and take care of their babies, would be levied a special extra tax.

Let's think this through:  if you raise VAT, stores and businesses must all raise their prices to compensate.  So a family that can barely afford to pay their rent or put food on the table can now buy even less.   Currently, over 1.5 million Israeli children live below the poverty line, let's see how much that increases after this boneheaded move, one which takes away the basic human right to dignity.

As an independent business woman in Jerusalem (one of the poorest cities in the country), I have resisted raising my prices over the last few years even with the increase in taxes; if this tax bill passes, I will have no choice but to do so and will in fact lose clients as a result.  Because I run my own clinic, I also pay into my government-required pension and savings plans, leaving me with even less by the end of the month.

And as one of the articles I read today pointed out, a 1.5% increase in income tax means a lot more to the poor who make 3500 NIS per month than those in the 35,000 NIS tax bracket.

Over the weekend I saw a heartbreaking story about several Jerusalem families who cannot afford to pay for their children's afternoon nursery school program.  During lunch time, these four children sit in the corner isolated from their classmates as most of them eat a warm meal, while this small group are literally given bread (with the oh so healthy chocolate spread) and water, and told that there are not even leftovers that can be passed their way.  I watched this report and cried, as a four year old sitting next to her mother explained that they "don't get to eat." I have never been able to handle the suffering of children.

Here's a crazy idea, within Israel exists a known sophisticated "Grey Market," IE Arabs and the Ultra-Orthodox who claim they don't work and not only collect government benefits, but also do not pay taxes on their earnings, or municipal taxes.  Tapping into that market alone would solve the budget crisis.  Here's another crazy idea, how about putting someone in charge of the Finance Ministry who can actually pull us struggling Israelis out of the quicksand, and send Lapid overseas as Foreign Minister, where he can harmlessly continue his former job in show business.

This coming June, I will celebrate 16 years of my move to Israel. I pray to G-d that I can afford to stay here and raise my daughter as an Israeli.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Mosquito season has officially begun here in Jerusalem and this year for some reason, Raphaela became tastier than me.  Her legs have been so bitten that it looks physically painful, and the only consolation are the fun band-aids she gets to choose and put on herself.  I will try every possible solution - chemical, natural or otherwise - to keep the buggers away from us, as we both suffer from sensitive skin.

Last night after her bath I rubbed soothing aloe vera onto the affected areas, and Raphaela looked at me, genuinely intrigued and asked, "Mommy, why are you fixing me?"

"Because I love you!"

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Only in Jerusalem

Always educational, in anticipation of Yom Yerushalaim, Raphaela's nursery has begun to teach the children the history of Jerusalem, especially the Old City.  Surrounded by a wall, the Old City hosts eight gates, and walking home, Raphaela and I could only name four of them.  Because I detest ignorance, I thought we might go home and use the resources of the Internet to find our answer, and then we passed by a local book store.  Inspired, I took my daughter inside and asked the employees if they had any books about Jerusalem, and/or if they happened to know offhand the names of all the gates.

With the help of the staff of the book store and another customer, in a friendly yet competitive trivia contest, Raphaela and I were able to walk away with the complete information.

Raphaela's favorite gate is "Shaar Ashpot," translated from the Hebrew as The Dung (or Garbage) Gate;  named so because it is through this gate, the closest to the Western Wall, that Elijah is meant to come aridin' on his white donkey to announce the arrival of the Jewish Messiah.  Previous conquerors of the city had piled their garbage there, thinking it would prevent the resurgence of the Jewish nation and the arrival of the Talmudic Messiah.

When I asked Raphaela why it was called The Garbage Gate, her mind immediately jumped to a recent Eco-Dora episode, in which an evil octopus was polluting the oceans with trash and threatening the balance of nature under the sea.  My daughter assured me that naturally, this octopus is responsible as well for violating the walls and gates of Jerusalem.

(Raphaela also regularly reminds me that Bob the Builder is the foreman on any construction project in our area.  Who knew?)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mothers Day

Having lived in Israel for 16 years this June, I have lost touch with the American holiday calendar.  One thing I know for sure, based upon the onslaught of spam emails I have received, Mothers Day will take place some time this month;  "Make your Mom feel special," "Get your mother _____ to show her how much you love her," etc.

Perhaps part of my recent bad mood can be attributed to the distinct lack of recognition I feel as a mother.  Sure,  I adjust the spine and help feel better, because that is my job,.  I take care of my daughter the best way I know how, because I have specifically chosen to bring her into the world and give her the best opportunity to fulfill her potential.

I have no time for me.

But who recognizes my achievement as a parent?  Raphaela's grandparents and extended family barely know her, and certainly don't visit us often enough to appreciate the smaller details of our lives.  I know my daughter since she started to grow inside me and thank G-d so far [pthoo pthoo pthoo] she displays remarkable beauty of character.

Who enjoys Raphaela's accomplishments the way I do?  Who tells me that I look nice in a particular outfit?  Who encourages me to exercise more often, to take care of myself? No one.  The motivation and compliments come from inside me, or from no where.  Who will send me a Mothers Day card or bring me flowers, or give me a day at the spa?  Your guess is as good as mine.

 I recently spoke with someone, an older man who expressed selfish indignation because he believed that he did not receive his due, "the return on his investment" from his children.  In my limited experience on this earth, I explained to him that the parent-child contract offers no guarantee of recognition or graciousness, that he may have to wait a long time or forever for his kids to realize the sacrifice that every parent makes, and the undefinable infinite unconditional love that we carry for our family.

On an existential level do I need the "Mother of the Year" award?  No, but it is comforting and helpful and most human to receive occasional praise and validation from someone on the outside looking in.  I think that this rings true for any mother, single or otherwise.