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!"