Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sign of the Times

"The Cat in the Hat Comes Back," written in 1958 as a sequel to the classic, "The Cat in the Hat," ostensibly teaches the alphabet, and the lesson that as long as you clean up your mess before your parents come home, it all works out.

Every week we take a book out of our local library for new reading on Shabbat, and "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" won this weeks lottery.  I didn't remember it all that well from my own childhood, and was surprised to find that I had a few unexpected objections to the text.

For starters, in both this book and the original, Sally and her brother are left home alone by their parents, and they don't seem old enough;  I wonder why the mother and father would not consider hiring a baby sitter.

Secondly, when the Cat in the Hat cleans the mess he has caused, at a certain point he transfers it to "Dad's bedroom."  Is this a reflection of married life in the 50's, where parents slept in separate rooms? Or is it the male-centered society of the last several centuries defining the parents' private space as controlled by the Man of the House?  (Historical or other explanations welcome.)

But most seriously disturbing was the language used toward the end of the book, when the Cat in the Hat must call upon his A-B-C minions to clean up the pink snow.  (From the cake he was eating in the bathtub, don't ask...More preferable in any case to yellow snow.)

And I quote,
 My cats are all clever.
My cats are good shots.
My cats have good guns. [pop-guns]
They will kill all those spots...

"Come on! Kill those spots!
Kill the mess!" yelled the cats.
And they jumped at the snow
With long rakes and red bats.

Perhaps Dr. Seuss was attempting some anti-war statement, but in today's era of shootings at schools, a rise in violence overall,  and the American debate about gun control laws, I would hardly consider this language appropriate for children Raphaela's age.  So I found myself changing the text, using the word "fix" instead of "kill," and toning down the number of times the word "bad" is used throughout the book.

My generation of parents, we are raising our children in a post 9/11 environment, in the era where PC language rules.  Beyond that, I am raising Raphaela in a country where war and terrorism come into the house along with breakfast cereal;  she certainly does not have to learn the word "kill" any earlier than is necessary.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

One Month Before My Birthday...

Last night I dreamt that I had gone to the hospital to visit a friend who was in labor and about to give birth.  While I was standing there, I went into labor myself, and gave birth to a happy red-headed infant, whom I named Jenny. [Possibly a reference to a Doctor Who episode]

This child was clearly conceived through immaculate conception, because I remember feeling quite surprised that I had apparently been pregnant and didn't realize it.  Both my mother and my grandmother (Rest in Peace) came to see me, and my grandmother was informing all those who would listen that this birth represented very bad timing, because I have donated all of Raphaela's smaller clothing, including the new-baby stuff, and because I have also donated or sold all of her baby accouterments, like her crib and stroller and standing bath and infant car seat.

[In fact, as I get closer to my birthday in real life, the donation of these items will take place some time this week, once I have found a worthy and legitimate charitable organization in Jerusalem.]

As it was a Friday morning, [Raphaela was born on a Friday morning in real life] I nursed Baby Jenny and tucked her into a cradle that looked more like a cardboard box, and lit Shabbat candles;  once she fell asleep, I resumed the previous dream, in which I was traveling for the summer with a group and we were trying to decide upon an amusement park.  I wanted to ride on the largest and most scary roller coaster.

As this group of my peers were arguing over the itinerary, I realized that I could not abandon Jenny even if she was unplanned and most inconvenient.  I smiled when I thought about Raphaela as an older sister, and laughed at the idea of raising not one but two girls.  I told my friends, "I have to go back for Jenny!"

And I woke up.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I admit, as my 45th birthday gets closer, I have been indulging in a fair amount of self-pity and unnecessary ruminations, about my body falling apart, the financial stress of being a single parent, and a host of other legitimate issues.

Then today, Raphaela's Gan sent a letter home to all the parents that a particular (anonymous) family within our little nursery community was suffering from a serious financial crisis, to the extent that they have been unable to pay their tuition; they are apparently practically homeless.  The Gan will be taking up anonymous donations to cover their tuition, and any extra will go directly to the family to help them through this crisis.

And so I want to say thank you, and express a deep appreciation to G-d.  Thank you for a roof over our heads, and for our health, and for our hyper-intelligent cat (my first born) Harry;  and despite the daily struggle, I have been blessed with a joyous and healthy child, worth all the riches in the Universe.

Developmental Milestones

This past Shabbat, I said to Raphaela, "OK, now we are taking our special Shabbat nap."  I can enjoy this rare treat only on the weekend.

Raphaela explained that as she has taken to less naps during the week at Gan, she does not feel tired now and does not want to rest with me.  I told her that if she let me sleep, and if she didn't burn down the house, she was more than welcome to play on her own.  I added that if she in fact changed her mind, she was more than welcome to crawl into her own bed and rest.

I don't know how I fell asleep at all.  The last time I left Raphaela awake she decided to "help" me with the laundry, and I woke up to a house covered in clothing detergent.  Then there was the time she decided to "bake challah," and put plastic Lego's into the actual oven, put on the actual oven and almost destroyed the kitchen.

But close my eyes I did, and two hours later I woke up and lo and behold, the house was in one piece and Raphaela had set up a beautiful birthday party for one of her dolls.

All hail this new and miraculous era of child rearing!

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Power of Words

Over Shabbat, Raphaela told and retold the story of a certain boy in her class ("M") who has taken to pushing the limits of his parents and his teachers.  According to my fascinated daughter (and confirmed by the staff), this M has taken to insulting his fellow class mates with all the words that describe icky bodily function, as well as perfecting the art of short-range spitting.

All weekend, this is what I heard:

RR:  Mommy, did you know that M called another boy (*****) [ Insert gross word here, word that four year olds find funny] and made him cry?
Mom:  Raphaela, in our house we don't hurt people's feelings or use icky words.
RR:  Mommy,  M also used the word (*****) and the other boy said that he didn't like it.

I was starting to understand that Raphaela kept this tale going because she understood that this represented the only avenue for her to repeat these words herself, in the legitimate context of the story.  And so I redirected...

Mom:  Let's come up with some nice words and some nice things we can do to help people feel better!
Mom and RR:  Flowers!  Love!  Ice Cream! Chocolate! Hugs and Kisses!

I hoped the issue had worn out its welcome.  Several hours later, Raphaela came over to me and whispered in my ear, "(*****)."  When I reiterated that we do not tolerate bad language in our house, she looked at me and said, "But Mommy, right now I am not Raphaela, I am M!"

(Why is it that we women always go for the 'bad boys'?)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Round-Up

Lately Raphaela  'borrows' my portable coffee cup and takes it to Gan in the morning, filled either with water or herbal tea that she merrily sips.  This morning she showed the cup to one of the two teachers who had already arrived, and Raphaela explained that she needs to drink water because otherwise, "Mommy says that my pee will be brown, and that's not healthy."

From across the room, one of the teachers laughed at the statement, presumably in surprise at hearing the sentence from a three and a half year old.   The other teacher - who has communicated in the past that she feels this teacher takes her job less seriously that she should - glared with the Look of Death across the room, pulled over Raphaela and said very seriously, "Raphaela, dehydration is NOT funny, it's actually very sad.  You should drink water all day, especially when it's hot outside.  It's not funny at all."


This morning, every time I attempted to start my shower, Raphaela came up with another task for me.  Here I am, literally running around the house naked and fulfilling her demands, and at a certain point I drew the line;  Raphaela wanted to paint and I told her that she could have paper and crayons but nothing more until she returned from Gan in the afternoon.

I could hear her crying as I finished my shower.

At noon, when I picked her up and we arrived home, she asked to do art projects, and I gave her paper with crayons and markers and paints.  Raphaela paused and said, "Mommy, are you nice?" I looked at her funny and asked to repeat the question, which she did, several times.

Then my daughter qualified the question, "Because this morning you were an angry Mommy and you didn't give me paints."

I assured Raphaela that I was feeling like a Happy Mommy, and that I didn't like to be angry as a general rule,.  She hugged me and said, "Thank you, thank you!"


This afternoon Raphaela attended a birthday party of one of her classmates, and on the way out each child had the option to construct their own loot bag.  She chose a toffee and a small bag of cereal, and then had the option of either funky sunglasses or a toy gun. 

Raphaela deliberated for quite a while, and then to my surprise chose the gun, though I am still fairly sure that she has no idea what it represents.  I asked her what this toy does, and she answered that it is called a "Ptoo ptoo";  my daughter then illustrated its use, jabbing it into the air and making the sound effects of a weapon.

I assume she learned about guns in school, from the boys in her class.  At this point I will leave her naive about the rest, as I am sure that as she grows up and understands the land and Israeli culture in which she lives, a gun will make perfect sense.  I still dream of a day when she will not have to go into the army or worry on a regular basis about her personal security.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Matchmaker Manipulations

A client of mine who works within the health system of the Ultra-Orthodox community told me a sad and alarming statistic, that the number of Ultra-Orthodox children born with physical or mental disabilities has grown exponentially in the last ten years. 

She then explained the phenomenon to me:  the shame of having an unmarried child only doubles the shame of having given birth to a child with a physical or mental disability in the first place.  Thus, the matchmaking process rarely involves the future husband and wife meeting each other in person, until a day or two before the wedding, and then only briefly;  the parents and the matchmaker smooth out the issues of dowry etc, paying little attention to actual compatibility.  Once the two young people are stuck with each other, they must (by tradition and halacha) consummate the marriage and start making babies as soon as possible.  By the time that one of the partners in this union realize that the other may be suffering from a physical or mental disorder, it is too late to get divorced (because that would bring more shame upon the family) and at least one child has already been brought into the world.

And the cycle continues, as each generation ignores common sense, refuses to do genetic testing during pregnancy to determine if there will be serious developmental issues, and continues to grapple with the sticky wicket of getting these children married off before anyone notices a problem.

Flash forward to this week, when a matchmaker called me to suggest a blind date.  She kept her details simple, "He is a really sweet guy, very tall and a good friend of the family."  Something niggled at the back of my head and I insisted that the matchmaker employ full disclosure.  She stammered and paused, and after several sighs, said, "OK, here's the story.  He is in his mid-40's and has never been in a serious relationship, not even a girlfriend.  There is something off about him, he does not make eye contact when he speaks to other adults, though he always seems to have a lot to say. He is good looking but makes a terrible first impression because he does not know how to dress himself and present himself properly.  He has a college degree in engineering but cannot hold onto any steady job, and mostly works in part-time under the table gigs. I am thinking that he suffers from some version of undiagnosed autism, but I am not a medical professional."

Me:  And what part of what you just told me disturbs you the most? (Still trying to process...)
Matchmaker:  Well, it always bothered me that he couldn't get a decent job.
Me:  You know I am a single mother with a toddler right?  What makes you think that this person is ready for marriage with an adult, never mind becoming an instant father with all the responsibilities that parenthood entails?
MM:  He is my kids favorite Shabbat meal guest!
Me:  Don't you think there is a difference between someone who entertains children for a few hours, and a man who must step up, become an equal partner within a relationship, and take care of the emotional, physical and financial needs of a family?  A baby sitter can be great with their charge for a few hours, a father falls into a completely different category.
MM:  Well, you seem to know what you want.
Me:  Yes, I don't want to get married so I can care for two children instead of one.  Qualifying that, I don't blame him for being autistic, and I wish him the best, but don't you think that maybe more thought ought to be put into your decisions, and not just the fact that he is a man and I am a woman and we are both unmarried and in our 40's?
MM:  Hmmm, you might have something there.  Perhaps this wasn't the best idea.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Day Dreaming

Today, in between patients, my mind drifted to a place where I imagined that somehow for no particular reason I got ripped out the present and returned to the beginning of 1997, toward the end of my internship in Chiropractic school, and a half a year before I moved to Israel. Serves me right for reading and watching too much science fiction.

It felt very real to me, so much so that I went into a panic because I could not remember the combination to my locker, or how to get to school from my apartment in Toronto.  Then I wondered what I would do if I had a test that day and hadn't studied, and decided that I would have to call in sick for the entire day, in order to avoid these problems.

Then I wondered in whom I would confide and seek help, who of my friends would take me seriously if I told them that I was a time traveler from 2013; ultimately I chose my best friend Shalymar and my cousin Susie.  How would I prove my claim?  Would they believe me if I warned them about the stock market crash under the Bush Administration, the various natural disasters that struck the States and Asia, the tragedy of 9/11, or the election (twice!) of the first black President?  I would not be able to hold myself back, and would need to tell my cousin that her husband was having an affair and was planning to divorce her, or that my friend Shalymar would meet the man of her dreams but have to move to a different state to marry him.

Given Chaos Theory and following the first law of Star Trek, perhaps I should avoid saying anything of the sort, the smallest inappropriately- placed knowledge could alter the entire Universe;  butterfly flapping wings, war in China etc.

Here was the greater challenge: if I could accept time travel and the sharing of very limited information, what kind of note would I leave myself before I returned to my own time?  If I could only leave a message of several cryptic words, what would my future self tell my past self?

How about, "Invest in iPhone."  But that would make no sense to me at the time.

I actually agonized over this decision for much of the afternoon, and despite all the dramatic and global stories to which I could have alluded, I decided that I would write the following:  "Raphaela is coming :-)  Get ready!"

Saturday, June 8, 2013

(As defined by Andrew Solomon, in his moving TED lecture)

PARENTING:  The terrible joy of relentless responsibility.

Yesterday Raphaela and I read a book together, she pointed at a particular picture and asked me, "What's that color?"  I answered, "Turquoise," and Raphaela put on her sad face, "Poor thing, he doesn't get a real color like everyone else."  I should have just said, "Blue."


Raphaela has a skirt and dress fetish lately, and I even had to go out and buy a few more dress outfits to meet her demand.  When I asked what she all of a sudden had against pants and leggings, she said, "I can't dance in pants, when I twirl, nothing happens!"


Raphaela, like an elephant, never forgets.  In April I told her that when the weather stabilized and it officially became Summer, I would get her a bike with training wheels. Last night as I tucked her in, she reminded me of my promise, and I heard her murmur in her sleep, "Where's my bicycle?"

She will have a nice surprise when she comes home today, and she had better appreciate it.  The parking near the store was horrendous, and I splurged on the best helmet possible.  After all, my daughter has one beautiful head, and I intend for it to stay that way.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Biological Beacon

Way before Raphaela was born, when it was just myself and Harry "The Highlander," I could hear Harry meowing from three floors downstairs, and always had this sixth sense regarding his feelings.  I used to think that he had somehow imprinted on me, and that a small piece of my brain was now dedicated to his care.

A recent article in Scientific American explained that beyond the expected emotional and physical bond between mother and child, there are actual deposits of the cells of the first born child within the brain of the mother;  like a permanent homing beacon that connects a mother to the needs and unspoken desires of her offspring, a possible scientific reason that each mother recognizes their own baby's cry within the crowd.  The more children a woman brings into the world, the less the "biological deposit."  This might also explain why mothers seem to know what mischief their kid is brewing when it becomes suddenly too quiet; the "eyes in the back of the head" phenomenon.

The research also noted that within a mother's brain, the location of cell deposits of their progeny compete with the cell deposits of their own mother, the child's grandmother.  Which might explain why grandmothers constantly tell their daughters that they know better because they've been doing this parenting thing longer, and that we are somehow getting it wrong and ruining our own children.

The Sound of Silence

I saw an old friend yesterday, who told me that she was on her way to a three-day Silence Conference;  three days in which all forms of communication IE speaking, writing, eye contact or other hand signals were expressly forbidden.  Apparently the teachers at this event guide each person in meditation and encouragement, to allow the participant to become fully cognizant of their internal processes.

My friend expressed concern that three days was not long enough time to "enter into the silence" and gain the full benefit of the experience.  She seemed not to be bothered at all that her husband would watch all four of their children, keep house and prepare for Shabbat during this adventure.

Having not had a proper voice since Sunday, I posited my opinion that even three hours of little to no human contact or communication is more than enough time to understand and embrace the silence;  that has been my reality more or less for the last week.  Because of the physical limitations on my vocal cords and my low energy levels, I have spent lots of time with myself and my thoughts.

More importantly, I have learned the art of using modern technology - which I generally deride and despise - to achieve the greater goal of effective communication.  Because of my access to Internet and social media, and because I can send text messages from my iPhone, I succeeded in closing several business and Chiropractic issues, as well as arranging play dates for Raphaela after Gan.  My daughter was able to play with friends old and new while I rested, she learned to trust certain adults who took her to their homes directly after school, and hopefully this strengthens her self-confidence and courage going into unfamiliar situations.

I have learned that I can ask for help, and even sometimes receive more than I expected from the most unexpected and marginal humans in my life.

The best gift of course are the squeals, huge smiles and hugs I get from Raphaela when I pick her up in the afternoon, "That's my Mommy!"

Indeed, and soon G-d Willing back to myself, completely, with the personal growth from which I have benefited from these Days of Silence.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What You Talking About Willis?

My friend Karen had offered to take Raphaela for a few hours yesterday, so I could rest; but since Raphaela has only really met her once, she refused to leave me, even with the promise that the two of them would bake cookies together.  As a side note, my friend Karen is also a Chiropractor, and has been adjusting me every day this week, and I am grateful for it.

Then Raphaela and I engaged in a long conversation about how my friend Karen has the same name as her best friend's Mommy, but she only likes her friend's Mommy.  I assured my daughter that it's perfectly normal for Mommy to have her own friends, and for Raphaela to play with them every once in a while.

Raphaela stared at me with severe skepticism, wrinkled up her nose and tilted her head and said, "You have your own friends?"

I laughed, and said, "Absolutely, having friends is important for everyone.  It makes life more fun."

Again my daughter made that What-you-talking-about-Willis face, and demanded, "Alright, so what are these friends names?"

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pray For Me

"My Mommy is sick," Raphaela announced to the classroom at Gan this morning.  "She can't talk."
"We will pray for her good health this morning," said the artistic and spiritual Russian nursery teacher Sophia, "Children, today during tefillot [prayers] we will send good thoughts to Raphaela's Mommy, her throat hurts."

Amazing how Raphaela can bring home Virus of the Week from Gan, suffer for a day or two, and then leave me in shambles for close to two weeks.  I could feel a cough creeping in last week, and on Friday night my immunity system collapsed;  Sunday I lost my voice, though in most other ways I seem to be functioning, except for the oppressive dry Summer heat here in Jerusalem.

 I went to sleep before eight last night, and when I woke up this morning I realized how quickly the house deteriorates if I don't keep on top of things.  Every possible floor space was covered with toys and games, the laundry needed folding, phone messages needed answering, and the dishes needed washing, as Raphaela seems to have used every spoon in the drawer;  all this chaos after approximately 24 hours of fatigue.

Raphaela suffers when I cannot speak to her; because I am the only other human in the house, I am de facto her mother and her best play mate, we have a secret language and set of understandings, and as she said to me on Shabbat, "I'm talking to you Mommy, now you talk back."

Thankfully, several of the parents of her classmates have offered to pick her up from Gan this week and take her to their homes for extended play dates, so I can rest and get over this plague as quickly as possible.  And in those moments that it's just me and her in the house, regardless of how I may be feeling I must slog on and take care of my daughter; such is the nature of being a single parent.