Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Brains!!

"Mommy, what if my bunny turns into a zombie bunny?  Will he try to eat my brains?"

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The SceneFriday afternoon, pre-Shabbat cooking

Raphaela walks stealthily into the kitchen, holding something that vaguely resembles a toy gun.

"Give me a taste of that squash or I'll shoot!"

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Super Woman

A (not married, no children) friend of mine complemented me this week, saying that I had the "Super Woman and Super Mom thing down pat."  I replied, "Thank you, I think."  Because being on and capable and organized and strong all the time gets tiring, and I secretly pray that one day I can collapse, and know that there is someone there to be my safety net and pick up some of the day-to-day responsibilities of my life.

Here's how today, Thursday was supposed to play out:

5:30 am:  Wake up, after the previous night in which I went to a late concert, leaving Raphaela at home with our baby sitter
7:30 am:  Take Raphaela to kindergarten
8:30-10:30 am:  Work in Chiropractic clinic
10:45 am:  Pick up Raphaela from Kindergarten to go to Shaarei Zedek Hosptial, to remove the stitches and get examined by the plastic surgeon
11:30-12:30:  Shaarei Zedek Hospital
12:45 pm:  Pick up Raphaela's new eyeglasses.  (Mercifully, because we had to pay privately, the optician gave me a nice price, saying that at this age, glasses are like "that toy that keeps breaking.")
1:15 pm: Return Raphaela to school
1:45-3:30 pm:  Work in Chiropractic clinic
4:00 pm:  Pick up Raphaela, come home for a quick snack
5:15 pm:  Leave house for Chanukah play
6:30-8:30 pm:  Chanukah play
9:00 pm:  Collapse in utter exhaustion

Here's how today, Thursday, actually played out:

5:30 am:  Raphaela wakes up, I tell her I need a half hour more of sleep
7:15 am:  Take Raphaela to Kindergarten
8:30-10:15 am:  Work in Chiropractic clinic
10:25 am:  Pick up Raphaela from Kindergarten
10:30-40 am:  Pick up Raphaela's new glasses, they look beautiful on her and open up her whole face
10:45 am:  Drive to Shaarei Zedek Hospital, the long way (I missed the proper exit)
11-12:30:  Wait for Raphaela's appointment with the plastic surgeon (they are running late...)
12:30-40 pm:  Removal of stitches, no anesthesia and it seems to hurt Raphaela even more than the original injury.  Such a trooper!
12:45 pm:  Drive Raphaela back to school, where she declares that she is worn out from her ordeal and just needs to rest
1:15 pm: Arrive home and eat a small quick lunch
1:45-3:30 pm: Work in Chiropractic clinic
4:00 pm: Pick up Raphaela from Gan
5:15 pm:  Amazingly, the bus comes right away and it takes less than ten minutes to arrive at the theatre with 45 minutes before the show starts
6:30-8:15 pm:  Raphaela, my good friend and her daughter, and 3,000 other Israeli children from across all walks of life and all religious levels watch a loud sparkly version of "101 Arabian Nights," featuring some A-list Israeli actors and the absolutely stunning Ethiopian Miss Israel.  Too bad we can't hear parts of the songs because of the din of all the children echoing along the fabulous acoustics of the hall.
8:15-8:30 pm:   The MC announces that in honor of their final performance and the recent holiday of Chanukah, all children exiting the theatre will receive a special candy box full of treats.  Raphaela and I almost get trampled just trying to get out of our seats, and I cover her face, worried that some jostling child or parent will rip open the not-yet-healed wound on Raphaela's chin.
8:45 pm:  A taxi gets us home, Raphaela is juiced up from the adrenaline of the show and the gift, I have a throbbing headache.
9:00 pm:  Raphaela collapses into bed.
9:15 pm:  I collapse into bed and vow that now that I have given my daughter the Israeli Chanukah "Festigal" experience, I will never do it again. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Chanukah VIII

Last night, as we lit a full compliment of eight candles for Chanukah, Raphaela became sad that the holiday was coming to an end.  To cheer her up, I reminded Raphaela that there is always a great holiday on the horizon, with Purim the next one of the Jewish calendar, and Christmas vacation starting in the United States tomorrow.

Raphaela got very excited, and said, "Oh goody, that means we are going to get snow tomorrow night!"

(If the miracle of Chanukah is that the small amount of pure olive oil lasted eight days, then the miracle of Christmas, according to every television show, is that it snows when you least expect it.  It amazes me that living in Israel where Christmas and New Years come and go without notice, my five year old has a full grasp on the lore of these non-Jewish holidays.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Raphaela the Brave

My daughter continues to astound me, as she maintains high positive energy despite her ordeal last week, and the bandages that cover the significant stitches on her chin.  This is my girl, who barely cried and lay perfectly still, even as the anesthesia started to wear off with the plastic surgeon only half finished.  Raphaela felt every pain, and showed bravery and constraint that I doubt most adults could manage on a good day.

This morning Raphaela asked for some coins and she has been giving them out all day to friends and strangers alike.  She tells them that she is giving them money that they may then give to charity, explaining that she is doing "good deeds" to thank G-d for taking care of her.

Then this afternoon we had what she called an "important talk," in which she explained that she is getting tired of the boys in her school who "fight and go crazy all day," IE we have arrived at the Cooties Stage, hooray!  I told Raphaela that she doesn't need to be friends with everyone, and that if she chooses to play only with girls for now, she is a perfectly normal child.

This new development certainly makes my choice of elementary schools easier, because it clearly answers the question, "Does Raphaela need/want boys in her class?"  When she is in high school and in the midst of adventurous dating, I will remind her of the time when she decided that boys were "wild and ichy."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Festival of Lights

Every Friday night, as part of the blessing I give my daughter, I use one of my favorite quotes from Bob Dylan, "May you always know the truth and see the light surrounding you."  I am particularly grateful this year to be able to light the candles with my daughter, reminded of our own little miracle. (Raphaela's face at the moment looks like she was hit by a truck...)

After two days of resting, I sent Raphaela back to school this morning, wondering if she would be able to stay out of danger;  you can't tell a five year old who is feeling fine that she must be especially cautious with her every day activities.  The fall happened as a natural consequence of children playing, and I would not want her to become fearful of experiencing a full life, as life requires an element of risk and uncertainty.

When I was preparing her lunch this morning, my gourmet chef looked at me and said, "You've made some good food choices there, but they're a little boring."

Once we found a shirt that I could pull over her head, we headed off to school, where I advised her teachers that (a) except for a gazillion stitches Raphaela is fine (b) I am the one still traumatized by the event and (c) I encouraged the teachers to allow Raphaela to have a full discussion about her wounds and her visit to the emergency room.

I was told later that after Raphaela spoke in front of her friends - "Mommy, I told them the whole truth!"- there ensued a class discussion where every child stood up and talked about their scars and moles and previous injuries.  I couldn't have planned it better myself.

Post script:  As I was walking home with Raphaela this afternoon we saw the mother of one of the boys who had front row seats to the face smack-down two days ago.  She asked me, "How are YOU doing? My son gave me all the gory details.  Was it really that bad?"

Monday, December 15, 2014

That Terrible Phone Call...

when the iPhone tells you it's the school on the other end of the line, and indeed, apparently Raphaela and her friend were playing together hand-in-hand, when they fell down on the concrete.  Somehow her friend walked away with a scuffed knee, while Raphaela almost broke her nose and re-opened the one year old scar on her chin.

Literally left an understanding patient on the table, back to Shaarei Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, where Raphaela was stitched up, but the full extent of her injuries will not be known until the swelling subsides.  The damage this time was so much worse, because of the scar tissue left over from the previous fall.

At least this time I packed a hospital kit and I knew which anesthesia would not cause an anaphylactic reaction and potentially kill my daughter.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Trick of Memory

(Or:  "Tell a Lie Enough Times and you Start to Believe It")

For as long as I can remember, I have been called "The Smart One in the Family," and I convinced myself in my head that if I am getting top grades, I must like school, and I must have had an overall positive experience from the beginning of my traditional education, in elementary school.

Today began the process of scouting elementary schools in Jerusalem, toward Raphaela entering First Grade next Fall.  Having already consulted with many parents in my area who have daughters slightly older than mine, I constructed a list of my first and second choices.  This morning I went to the Open House for my second choice program; second only because it would mean driving every morning and sitting in traffic, as opposed to walking down the street for ten minutes..

My primary question for Raphaela, without imposing my own skewed views on the subject, is whether she would do better socially in a mixed class or an all-girls class. I have heard cogent arguments for both sides.  As well, the choice of the vein of Zionist Nationalist Religious education (as opposed to another stream) also has extreme implications on our family life.

When I walked into the building, it felt like...Jerusalem.  Old Jerusalem.  That translates to a dingy exterior, small-ish classrooms with no locker space to keep books and back packs, and those Israeli tiles that they used in the 1960's, the ones that are brown and speckled and look dirty even when they are bleached and spotless.  The principal and the teachers seemed committed and enthusiastic, and I appreciated their program of supplementing - "challenging" - children who seem to be bored in a particular subject.

I did not like the little speech I got about the detriments of bi-lingualism, and how it's better not to "confuse" children.  Quite the contrary, I have read study after study that states unequivocally that children who speak at least two languages fluently have a more flexible brain, and can absorb and process information more quickly. I also did not hesitate to point out that when this generation of  computer-literate and generally life-savvy children hit the job market in their 20's, the person with the better English will win the game.

Then it hit me, as I was observing these kids and examining their displayed art objects, this little voice in my head said, "You have been lying to yourself all these years!  You did well in school because you worked damn hard, but you had a difficult social life and low self-esteem.  You always felt like an outsider, you most absolutely did not like school!"

Joining the chorus was a voice even more surprising, that of a mature anxious mother, "Some part of you does not want Raphaela to grow up, and the idea of her starting First Grade scares you to death.  You are afraid to make the wrong choice, you are afraid she will not have a good group of friends, you are afraid that she will miss out because you did not grow up in Israel through this same educational system..  Will my daughter be happy?!"

I left the school premises with the information I needed, and a whole new set of nightmares to keep me awake.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The chorus from one of the songs that the children in Raphaela's class sang tonight, at the Gan Chanukah party; an extravaganza that included minor pyrotechnics, a brief re-enactment of the destruction of the Temple, and of course, doughnuts.

"Like the flame, the Jews will never be extinguished!"

The Sort-Of Story of Chanukah

As told by Raphaela

Once upon a time there was a Princess who wanted to play with her dreidel.  Antiochus [the Greek ruler] came and broke her dreidel and tried to put pigs inside the Jewish Temple.

Antiochus got an "X" for his bad behavior!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Showering 101

When Raphaela was a baby and I needed to shower, as the only responsible adult in the house I had no choice but to strap her into a bouncy seat and bring her into the room with me.  As she became a toddler, she would often choose to be in the room with me and play while I took a shower, and I despaired of ever having that ten minutes or so of privacy and quiet time.

Then, for a while, Raphaela was quite content to eat breakfast or play or watch a video, and I felt that it was safe enough to leave her roaming the house while I could not supervise.

This morning, Raphaela decided that she wanted to learn the art and science of showering like an adult, and asked if she could observe my technique while I went through my morning ritual.  At first I didn't think she was serious, but she insisted.

The first order of business was Plumbing 101, a brief and yet detailed explanation of water pressure and pipes IE where does the water come from and where does it go.

Her comment on my hair mask:  "Is that the same mask you put on your face sometimes?

When I was lathered up she exclaimed, "You look like a cow!"  Ready to be insulted, she explained that my whole body was white from the bubbles, and my hair was still brown, and so...I looked like a cow.  Then ensued a deep discussion about the difference between a lufta sponge and other standard methods.

Eager to understand why I shave my legs, I was quick to point out that a razor is sharp and really only for adults who know how not to get cut.

As I washed off she became most enthusiastic and proclaimed with genuine admiration that I was "the champion at taking showers" and that she could not wait to be a Mommy so she could do the same.

Raphaela, so eager to grow up, and Mommy, who forgets that children see and hear everything, that we are role models even when we just want to wash our hair in peace.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Real and Imaginary Friends

My parents had come to visit us for two and a half weeks, and it took two days for Raphaela to truly absorb the fact that they were no longer our neighbors down the street, once again the grandparents who live on Skype or Facetime.  Raphaela and I were in the supermarket last Thursday and in the middle of the fruit aisle, she burst out crying, saying how much she missed my mother and father and asking when they would be returning from America to Jerusalem.

The only way to console her was to whip out my cell phone and on the spot arrange a video call with my father, who spoke to her and calmed her down. (Praise be the iPhone!)

On the way home Raphaela declared that from now on she would only play with family members, real or imagined.  Which leaves my brother and his family, whom we see infrequently, and her two imaginary siblings, a younger brother and an older sister.  I got the sense that since my parents had returned to the their home in Boston, Raphaela had chosen to play by herself with her imaginary brother and sister, rather than with her real classmates during the day.

Concerned, I told her that in order to be happy and have good days, we need both our real and imagined playmates, and that we should treasure the real people around us, even if they are not related by blood.  To encourage her, I told her that when I was little I had an imaginary friend who was a super hero, and while I have not abandoned her (even as a grown up), I truly enjoy the time I spend with my real-live grown up friends.  Then I  asked her to name some of the children in her Gan that she likes, and Raphaela begrudgingly filled our her list. I reminded her as well that there are people who love her everywhere in the world, even if we cannot eat Shabbat dinner with them every week.

I can only hope that the sadness and the social isolation she is imposing on herself will pass.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Mommy Store

(The Scene:  a minor tantrum by Raphaela because of some perceived transgression by Mommy)

Raphaela:  (with sour face) I don't like you anymore.
Mommy:  You don't have to like me all the time, but I will always be your Mommy.
Raphaela:  I want another Mommy then.
Mommy:  OK, after I take you to school I will go to the Mommy Store and buy you a new one, a better model.
Raphaela:  (approximately two seconds later) Did you go to the store yet?
Mommy:  No!
Raphaela:  Alright...I will take you back.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tell It Like It Is

This weekend, I hosted my parents visiting from overseas, as well as my brother and his family who live in another (more religious) neighborhood in Jerusalem, not within walking distance of our house.  I had the following conversation with my seven year old niece, who went straight for the jugular, as children often do.

Niece:  Raphaela is really lucky, if you get married, she can go to the wedding!
Me:  Uh huh.
N:  Are you even anywhere near finding a husband?
Me:  Not yet.
N:  You know you are the oldest of all your brothers and sisters, and the rest are all married.
Me:  Uh huh.  (Feeling the unintended knife twisting in my back.) So, who wants some more Thanksgiving turkey?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Holidays

This morning, with terrific excitement, I reminded Raphaela that today we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday left over from my American experience and yet shall be cherished every year, no matter where I live.  Raphaela asked if she was allowed to join in the Turkey Day festivities, as she was born in Israel and not the United States.  I told her that as she has an American passport and a mother born in the US, she is also a dual citizen and should enjoy all rights as such.

Later in the day, an Israeli patient asked me if I had commemorated Christmas in my house, as a child growing up in America.  After all, it has even become accepted among some observant American Jews to take their child Trick-or-Treating;  forgetting all historical background to the holiday IE pogroms and the slaughtering of Jews, kids get to wear costumes and collect free candy.  Harmless, right?

I laughed and pointed out that since my father is an ordained Orthodox Rabbi, it was never an option  to visit Santa at the mall or have a "Chanukah Bush" in our house.  Christmas is all about Saint Nick and Jesus and trampling a stranger to get a cheap X-Box, clearly religious in nature, as opposed to Thanksgiving.  My parents actually did a good job of giving the Jewish holidays throughout the year beauty and significance, without envy or wistfulness for the more Christian and pagan holidays.

That being said, I do have a secret indulgence:  Christmas carols.  They bring me some joy as it reminds me of the warm atmosphere of New York City that month before the holiday, where New Yorkers seemed less cut-throat and more friendly, "Happy Holidays!" wherever you went, skating at Rockefeller Center, the MET tree and the window decorations.

Ahh, nostalgia!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

This morning, Raphaela's first mumbled words after she woke up:  "I am going to make a good Mommy some day."

And on the way to school, with the Jerusalem morning traffic of cars on their way to work and school and life, "We have to find another place to live, this pollution is awful.  Maybe we will go find the Lorax and live there, where the air is clean."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Every Day Heroes

As we move onto the next Jewish holiday, Chanukah, Raphaela's teacher asked the parents to prepare a project about family history, and about heroism.  The teacher explained that heroes come in small and large packages, and that each story would be read to open their mind to the idea that you don't have to lead an army against the Greeks to be considered brave.

A bit at a loss, because I don't see anything in particular that I have done in my life as especially heroic,  and I can't fall back on the Israeli soldier stories.  So I asked Raphaela if she thought that I was brave.  She responded with a resounding "Yes!"  When I asked Raphaela to elaborate on what actions in particular she admired, she answered, "Well, you dance and sing, you ran in the Marathon, and you eat and you read me stories."

Then it hit me, that the one thing I have done in my 46 years for which I can say I am proud and I feel quite brave...is in fact, Raphaela!  I made a choice to bring an amazing little girl into the world, to be pregnant and give birth and raise her every day, for the rest of my days.

Of course, I cannot write about being a single mother and about my fertility treatments to a group of five year olds; I have pledged to never allow Raphaela to feel from me that she and our family are too unusual,  and I will certainly not allow it to become a topic of general discussion among her friends.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Life, Death and Politics

My parents are arriving today for a two and a half week visit, and after recent events, I feel like locking them inside their vacation apartment the entire time.

Because it is now unsafe to stand at a bus stop or a train station, or to even pray in a synagogue.

My brother, who stood less than ten minutes away from the site of the brazen horrific massacre in Har Nof, Jerusalem, kept his children home from school yesterday.

For all who blame Israel for this 3,000 year old situation in the Middle East, think again.  The Palestinians strap bombs to their children and rejoice in their holy sacrifice, PM Abbas proclaims that more Jewish blood must be spilled on the streets of Jerusalem, and Arabs around the world celebrate every time there is a terror attack anywhere in the world that takes the lives of Jews.  Watch the video of them dancing on the streets after 9/11, if you don't believe me.

During the war this past summer in Gaza, Israel sent text messages, emails and flyers to innocent citizens in Gaza, warning them to leave areas that would soon come under attack.  Hamas, an equal partner in the so-called legitimate Palestinian government, shot anyone who tried to leave to safety with their families, put missile launching sites in living rooms and hospitals and schools, and tunneled under Israeli soil with the intent of slaughtering Israelis while they slept.

In his heyday, Yassir Arafat had the opportunity to receive 98% of the demands of his people from the Israeli government, and he refused.  Because 100% would have been Judenrein, a Palestinian State with no Jews in sight.  Anyone remember the Nazis?

Golda Meir said that there will not be peace until the Arabs love their own children as much as they hate ours.

This is not a way to live, or die, for either side.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shabbat Shalom, Hey!

The more Raphaela becomes aware of her surroundings, the more sure I must be of the rules and guidelines and consistent messages that are in place in our home.  On Friday night Raphaela informed me that her teacher told her that it is forbidden to watch television on Shabbat.  It's nice to detach from the world of bad news and technology for 24 hours.

On Shabbat day, Raphaela and I packed a picnic lunch and some sports equipment, to meet up with friends in the park near our house, a large playground and grassy area usually full of religious families and Arabs on this, our only day of supposed rest during the week for the citizens of Israel.

As we started walking down the hill, a lone car drove by.

Raphaela:  Mommy, my teacher told us that you are not allowed to drive on Shabbat.
Mommy:  That's true honey, and though our car rests on Shabbat, some people drive.  Everyone makes their own choices.
Raphaela:  Some people use elevators on Shabbat and some don't.
Mommy:  That's right, and like I said, it is up to each one of us to decide what we do, and to accept the consequences of that choice.
Raphaela:  Aha!  Like the fact that you are wearing running shoes to the park and I am wearing Shabbat shoes.
Mommy:  That's right (trying to suppress my smile), and we are both dressed just fine.
Raphaela:  We are both OK.

When we arrived at the park, we were pleasantly surprised to find that a political group wishing to encourage a Shabbat-for-All environment had set up a concert area, along with various art projects, clowns, and mats on the grass.  In fact, to show that Jerusalem can become as open and tolerant a city as any other, Israelis came from all over the city to our little park, and we grown-ups sat for several hours while the children played together.

Ironically, because the park was so over-run by people attending the festival, the regular crowd of religious and Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Arabs doing BBQ fled the scene.  Score Zero for openness and the inter-mingling on a lovely sunny Shabbat day.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gan Birthday Party, The Main Event

Today, loaded with bags of costumes (for the re-enactment of the classic Israeli children's book, Grandfather Eliezer and the Giant Carrot) and enough food to feed the Israeli army, four proud parents celebrated the fifth birthday, the first official party of the year.

The excitement could not be contained, and not just for the honorees but for all 35 of the students of Gan Devorah.  The Head Teacher first led the class in the normal morning routine of singing and Jewish prayer; then she formally invited the parents to join in, and dance. Lots of joyous dancing! There was the perfect balance between involving all the kids, and making special notice of the three birthday girls and the birthday boy.

At one point, each child was asked to choose three friends to give them a personal blessing, and surprisingly, my daughter chose three of the boys in her class.  Even the teacher could be seen shaking her head and smiling in the unexpected move.

Following the "Mother's Dance," the teacher invited the men of the family to play a modified game of Marco Polo.  Amazingly, both Raphaela and I were blessed with the presence of my brother, who moved to Israel with his family this past August.  Raphaela was overwhelmed with joy that she was surrounded by family and could participate equally, that she was not left out of anything, for obvious lack of a father.

Then the four parents stepped and engineered a play that included all 35 children in the class, all in various costumes gathered from the Purim closets in all our houses.  Wildly successful, and we are thinking of taking the act to Broadway next.

On a final note, the teacher had said at the beginning of the year that this was a special group of kids, more intelligent and thus more "challenging...in a good way" than she has seen in previous years.  I can attest to that personally. 

Firstly, when I first took Raphaela to school today, one of the boys for no real reason started making fun of my daughter's dress, a step-up in fancy than the usual.  Before I even had a chance to open my mouth and defend my offspring, one of her girl friends said loud and clear, in front of the whole group seated there, "That's not nice, making fun of someone and hurting their feelings!"

[ I believe that mothers carry so much guilt at what we perceive we are not doing right, and we are not told often enough that our efforts have paid off.  So I immediately called this girl's mother and told her that she had raised a wise and brave and wonderful child.] 

Later, before the party, a group of  8-9 girls of Raphaela's friends, told me that I was the "Cool Mom," and they insisted that I play with them, sharing their stories and their feelings with me as we sat in a large circle.  I felt a happiness that I cannot express adequately, knowing that Raphaela is part of this beautiful group. Today as in all days,  I was proud to be (as the Israelis say) "The Mother of  Raphaela."

All parents want for their children is to know that they are loved and secure in all their relationships.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gan Birthday Party II

For the last two weeks, four parents (including myself) have been communicating and shopping towards the birthday party of these four children, tomorrow at Gan.

To clarify, the four parents who have dedicated their free time to making this celebration memorable and joyful are the MOTHERS.  Three of these four mothers (including myself)  hold full time jobs, and as far as I know, the fathers are satisfied that we women have got it covered.  The fathers will certainly show up with their video cameras and their smiles and take partial credit for the party, since they helped bring their five year old into the world.

For all the so-called progress women have made in the twenty-first century, we have a long way to go, baby. 

Just saying.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Anglo Saxon? Duh!

One would think that after living in a country for almost 18 years, the blatantly American mannerisms would become dull and fade. Despite the American tinge to my Hebrew accent that will never vanish, I know that my approach to politics and life and child-rearing are Israeli to the core.

A prime example:  even after I made aliyah and before I gave birth, the idea of hitting back was abhorrent to me. I spent many an occasion berating the Israeli educational system for allowing such active physical bullying, accepting it as the norm.  Today, if Raphaela tells me that a child in her class was bothering her and hitting her, I instruct my daughter to defend herself first, and then tell the teacher.  For better or for worse, and especially in these days of terrible escalating violence all over the country, a child growing up here must have superlative awareness to their surroundings and not become a victim.

And yet, yesterday as I walked around the whole city of Jerusalem doing errands, several people addressed me in English, from the start.  As if it was obvious that English was my mother tongue and that I am an Israeli wanna-be.

It bothered me, and so I started taking a poll among my Israeli friends, asking what subtle signs gave away my land of birth.  No one could exactly put their finger on it, one person suggesting it was the way I wore running shoes all the time, many others saying that it was just "obvious."  Even Raphaela, born here in Jerusalem and possessing the most authentic Hebrew accent, along with the Israeli chutzpah, apparently shows some anglo markers, inherited and observed over time in her mother.

One of my Israeli friends assured me that my mixed past made me a more interesting person, and that all the elements of my upbringing gave me certain advantages.  "Take it as a compliment that you don't come off as an obnoxious Israeli.  Besides, you are more Tel Aviv than Jerusalem."

Who knew?

Love and Marriage

"Mommy, I am going to marry E from my kindergarten!"

"What is it that you like about him?"

"Well, he's silly, and he teases the girl in my class who hurts my feelings, and then I feel better."

"Being married is great Raphaela, when you find the right person to be the Daddy, and when you both love each other and treat each other nicely.  A sense of humor is important as well. "

"What if you don't find the right person to marry?  How do you get to have babies?"

"The same way I had you, when I could not find the right person to be the Daddy."

"Oh, right.  You went to the hospital and the doctor helped you."

"That's right, and maybe even some day I will get married to the right person, and you will have a Daddy who loves you and lives in the house."

"Hooray!  That would be wonderful, Mommy."

Monday, November 3, 2014

Gan Birthday Party I

Since the very beginning of the school year, possibly even starting in August while she was still in Nature Camp, Raphaela asks the question almost daily, "When am I going to have my Gan birthday party?"  I had answered her consistently, after the set of Jewish holidays.  (It's the period known by all in Israel as "Acharei HaChagim," when suddenly people become productive, until the Chanukah vacation in December.)

The day after Succot ended, Raphaela made a very reasonable and reasoned demand, "Mommy, my birthday was one week ago, and now the holidays are over, for real.  Did you arrange the date for my Gan birthday party?"

And so, after nagging the Head Kindergarten Teacher Devorah, the main event was set for this coming Friday.  That was, until Gannenet Deborah injured her arm last night.

Now the party has been pushed off one more week, and I dreaded breaking the news to my birthday-obsessed daughter.

This morning I sat Raphaela down, looked her straight in the eye and explained that her teacher hurt her arm very badly last night and now she is wearing a cast.  I told Raphaela that I spoke to her teacher, and Devorah said that she really wants to be able to dance properly at the party, and so it will not be this week after all, but rather soon, in fact next Friday.

I expected sadness and disappointment, possibly a welling-up of tears. Instead, Raphaela immediately ran to the play room, took out markers and scissors and drawing paper, and of her own initiative, created a beautiful "Get Well" card.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

First Haircut, Ever

Today, for the first day since her birth, Raphaela got a haircut.  Or rather, a trim, since a Princess is expected to have long flowing locks of hair.

The smile never left her face, as she got her hair washed and brushed and snipped and blown dry, and she handled it so maturely;  she loves the "girl" stuff.

At one point my stylist asked Raphaela if she would like a cup of coffee, and my daughter responded just as politely, "No, thank you!"

When we left, Raphaela informed me that when she would be older, she might consider taking off more than just the frizzy edges.

The few pieces of baby hair that were cut are now saved safely, as a keepsake for Raphaela's silly  sentimental Mommy.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Banning Dr. Phil

With about five minutes to spare before I had to pick up Raphaela from kindergarten, I turned on the television and literally, out of approximately 400 channels, there was nothing on worth watching.  And so I was stuck with Dr. Phil, whom I have boycotted since I watched one of his programs in which he made a mockery of modern Judaism, with the help of the self-promoting sex Rabbi, Shmuly Boteach.

On this particular program today, a married couple sat with the doctor, explaining that recently their two older children had begun torturing the family cat on a regular basis.  The mother, with a stone face that betrayed little human emotion, admitted that she felt slightly concerned at this development, since historically speaking, animal mutilation represents the first step toward a successful career in the psycho serial killer industry.

The father shrugged his shoulders, saying that he was not particularly concerned since "Kids will be kids...and besides, at least they are not running around the house breaking things."

Because apparently in 2014 in the United States, breaking stuff would be more worrisome to parents than the mistreatment of  vulnerable living beings.

The ban on Dr. Phil has just been reinstated.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy Snacking

Israeli nursery schools have this wonderful concept of "Aruchat Eser," roughly translated from the Hebrew as the "10:00 morning meal," a snack to get the kids through the arduous task of playing and learning and paying attention.

Most parents happily pack a sandwich and a fruit, and maybe a granola bar and the job is done.  Except that my daughter has never and continues to not eat sandwiches, and so I must become creative.  Yogurt and rice cakes instead of bread, cut up vegetables as a side dish, and no granola bars allowed, since one of the girls in her class is deathly allergic to almost everything.

Yesterday when I was packing Raphaela's lunch, she told me that her teachers had instructed me to pack bread and "something different than the usual."  First of all, getting a message from the kindergarten teacher via kids is like playing broken telephone, and I am skeptical that they would actively criticize my parenting skills to my child.

But Raphaela insisted, until I glared down at her [because I had nothing better to do in the morning than fight with her] and said, "Who is your Mommy?  Who has been feeding you these past five years, plus the time you were in my stomach?"

No reaction.

I continued, "My dear, if I give you a sandwich in your lunch box, what is the likelihood that it will come home untouched at the end of the day?  Do you even like sandwiches?"

"No Mommy."

"OK then, how about then you tell your teachers, very politely of course, that you do not eat bread and sandwiches because you just don't like it. If you say it nicely and yet firmly, they will hear you and stop bothering me."

Sure enough, this morning while getting her Aruchat Eser ready, Raphaela quietly informed me that there was no need to think about packing bread.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Raphaela Book Club

Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)

Summary:  after an odd home invasion by Sam I Am, Mr. Hat runs to the end of the Earth to avoid a new culinary experience.  After surviving a car/plane/boat crash, he decides that he should not have had an objection to the odd colored protein offerings of Sam I Am.

"Mommy, why doesn't he want to eat it?"
"Because he is afraid of trying new things.  You don't get very far in life if you never take risks."
"If I eat green eggs and ham, will I get a sticker?"
"Well, yes and no, you see ham isn't kosher because it's made of pig."
"But I can eat the eggs, right?"
"Yes, eggs are kosher, so are giraffes.  Though I am not sure what makes the eggs green.  I am not sure that green eggs are healthy for us."
"Mommy, I wouldn't want to eat giraffes, they are our friends."

Good Night, Good Knight (Shelley Moore Thomas)

Summary:  starring three small dragons, left alone in their dark cave in the middle of the forest.  They summon a good Knight from the neighboring castle to put them to sleep, as the Knight resists the urge to slay them with his sword.  Not because they are dragons, but because they will not go to sleep, damnit!

"Mommy, where are the Mommy and Daddy of the dragons?"
"I don't know, maybe they went out for date night and left the oldest brother in charge."
"But did the Mommy and Daddy plan on coming home and tucking their children into bed?"
"If you are asking if these children are all alone, I don't think so.  See, they each have clean jammies, toys and all the pictures on the wall of their deep dark cave in the middle of the forest are happy drawings.  It would seem to indicate that they lead a safe and joyful dragon life."
"When are the Mommy and the Daddy going to come home already?"
"When the dragons are already sleeping.  Don't worry, the Good Knight will tuck them in, and read them stories, and get them a drink of water, and sing them lullabies."

Later...
"Look Mommy, the Good Knight was so tired after taking care of the three baby dragons that he fell asleep in his chain mail and his special Knight's helmet."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Aversion Therapy

If you ask Raphaela when she will get her first haircut, she replies, "When I turn 26 years old!"

In an attempt to change that decision, my hair dresser and I have come up with a plan to slowly expose her to the salon, explaining each time that hair is magical; it grows but it doesn't feel pain if you trim it with scissors.

Every time we visit for only a few minutes, and remind Raphaela that if she wants to have really long princess hair, she should actually get a trim, that her hair will grow faster afterwards.

Thus far, she remains unconvinced.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Landing the Helicopter

There has been much talk and debate regarding Helicopter or "Tiger" parents, and I for one have always been grateful that Israeli society seems to foster more independence in children than in the United States.

In the past 24 hours I have come to understand that I still have room for improvement.

Yesterday Raphaela tried out an after-school activity at the Jerusalem Museum of Natural History, where she had previously experienced one of the her most memorable summer camps.  The 90 minute animal workshop was led by the same woman who managed the summer camp, a kindergarten teacher with miles of experience and a teaching philosophy that I have always admired.

The teacher suggested that if the parents were to remain in the room, we could participate gladly but not minimize the effect for the children.  Personally I would have been happy to meet with a friend for a cup of coffee and return for pick-up, but Raphaela wanted me to stay and meet her favorite bunny.  Throughout the play time, I found myself trying to "help" the instructor and Raphaela by re-explaining or modifying the teacher's instructions.  At a certain point, Maya Papaya Pickle [that's her name at work...] pulled me aside and explained that in her many years of dealing with children and their parents, she knows that all I have done comes from a positive place, with the intention of making my daughter's life "easier."  Maya Papaya then continued, encouraging me to consider how much more it would help Raphaela if I stepped aside and allowed her to work things out for herself, gain the confidence of knowing that she figured it out and conquered her own territory.

Yup.  And so I sat in the corner drinking tea, joining in only when Maya Papaya and Raphaela gave me their permission.

This morning I took Raphaela to speech therapy, where we have finished proper Hebrew pronunciation and have moved onto building the bridge of vocabulary between her fluent English and her fluent Hebrew, both of which get just a bit lost when Raphaela is trying to form complex sentences. I tried to observe quietly, and again, found myself several times trying to give Raphaela hints as to how to find a solution or a word faster, or at least quicker than her own mind was capable of at the time.  Yvonne, her most excellent speech therapist and kind person, gently advised me to generate the patience and give Raphaela the time she truly needed, because if she solved a linguistic issue herself, she would own it and be that much more proud of herself.

Yup.  And so I sat in the corner playing on my iPhone and only interacted in the game and evaluation when invited to do so.

After dropping Raphaela off at school, I went to the Chiropractic clinic and began my work for the day, and that's when whatsapp starting pinging.  First a message from Raphaela's kindergarten teacher, announcing that on Friday the CHILDREN would be celebrating the start of a series of teachings about the Torah.  Deborah asked that the parents send their kids to school that day in fine clothing and with celebratory Torah items, like a flag.  Deborah, the head teacher also requested that four of the parents IE fathers volunteer to read the opening chapter of Genesis, in various ethnic tunes and styles, as part of the celebration. 

PING!  Mother 1:  Well, I am coming to the celebration and I will be making a cake for the party.
PING!  Mother 2:  Me too, I will also be bring a cake.
PING! Mother 3:  I will be bringing a cake that is gluten free, for the children who may have allergic sensitivities.
(Here I am, thinking that the teacher did not want to turn this into a major parent-child event, that I really really want my Fridays free so I can relax from the whole week, and what the hell do parents gain by kissing up to the staff at the kindergarten?!  Didn't the teacher promise that parents would have only three parties the whole year? I  am willing to embrace the lasseiz faire approach...)
PING!  Deborah:  I think we have enough cakes.   Can someone bring some drinks?
PING! PING! PING! PING! (Twenty times over)  Parents 4-20:  I will bring drinks.
PING! Father 1:  I will be able to read the Torah in the Ashkenazi style.
PING!  Father 2:  I will be able to read the Torah in Sephardi style.
PING!  Father 3:  I will be able to read the Torah in Sephardi Israeli style.
PING!  Father 4:  I feel so bad, I am working on Friday and I can't help you by reading the Torah in any style.  But I just wanted to say how bad I feel about not being able to come.
PING!  Deborah:  Wow, you parents are amazing, really. Can any of the fathers read the Torah in Teimani style?  And do any of the other mothers or fathers want to open the party with a blessing for all the children of the class?
PING!  Mother21:  Wait, don't we need throw away plates and cups for the party as well?
PING!  Deborah:  Sure, why not.
PING!  Mother 22:  Hey, I wanted to bring cutlery and plates and cups and napkins!
PING! Deborah:  Please, by all means.  Now we are missing other snack foods like potato chips and such, who will volunteer for that?
PING! Mother 23:  I am going to bring the biggest bag of potato chips you have ever seen.
PING!  Mother 24:  Me too, my bag of chips will be just as big.
(Rearranging my work schedule for Friday and wondering if I am going to have to wear full synagogue regalia for this supposed minor religious gathering.)
PING!  Deborah:  Parents, by the way, you should remember that is just the first session of a full year of parent-child activities every Friday.  I think it is so important that you mothers and fathers fully encourage your children as they get closer and closer to First Grade and to their awareness as proud Jewish children.
(Every Friday?  And you know that there will be repercussions  on some level for parents who can't attend on a regular basis, because of work or Shabbat preparations, or G-d Forbid some grown up time at the end of the week.  I mean, I love my daughter and would do anything for her, but have a little mercy on a single mother...)
PING! Mother 25:  Hey, are you sure we don't need another cake?

Distracted and exasperated, I shut off my phone.

Friday, October 17, 2014

In a spontaneous act of initiative and accomplishment, Raphaela showed me (and strangers on the street, all day) that she now can zip her jackets and sweatshirts all by herself, beginning to end.

Next skill set:  tying a bow on non-Velcro shoes, and telling time on a non-digital clock.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Girl Power

Raphaela's stance on feminism is apparently based upon an event-by-event analysis, rather than a unified philosophy.  After previously asserting that Jewish ritual is man's work, an example reinforced in her classroom, she had a problem with the celebration of Simchat Torah in our local synagogue.

Before the last day of the holiday of Succot, I had spoken to friends of ours who attend our synagogue and have a boy in Raphaela's class.  I asked that my daughter be allowed to join their family in the men's section during the dancing, because at the end of the day, the men seem to have most of the fun.  When I encouraged Raphaela to find her friend, she refused, stating that if I couldn't go into the men's section, than neither would she.  Despite my explaining that I was fine with the arrangement, an indignant Raphaela would not budge.

Not wanting to deprive my daughter of the Simchat Torah experience, I and another Israeli woman convinced the men to give one of the scrolls - full size and quite heavy - to the women's section upstairs.  It was with pride that I was the first to stand in the middle of the circle, my daughter beside me, dancing with a Torah scroll.  It brought me back to my most fond memories of this particular holiday, spent in the beautiful Jewish community on the Columbia/Barnard campus.

 The tsk-tsk and sideways looks of the much older Orthodox women did not stop me or our small group of dancers today.  One woman came up to me and said, "You know, there is a reform synagogue in Jerusalem."  Another woman came over, or rather snuck over afterwards, kissed the Torah scroll I was holding and quietly thanked me for my initiative.

Once Raphaela was in the groove, she eagerly went downstairs into the men's section during the special blessing of the children, squished between almost 100 local kids of the synagogue, with the promise afterwards of a Simchat Torah goodie bag,  loaded with toys and diabetes inducing treats.

If a child is meant to feel a sense of joy and community within the synagogue, this was a great place to start, with candy.  Lots of candy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Carnival!

This week, we have already gone to the Biblical Zoo and flown a kite at the International Kite Festival at the Israel Museum.

Today I took a walk down memory lane, in more ways than one.  Every year during the interim period of Succot IE the 11 day vacation that Raphaela has from school, Jerusalem hosts an international 15K march and parade, featuring groups from all over Israel and Righteous pro-Israel Christians from all over the world, including China, Germany and United States.

The walkathon terminates in Gan Saccher, right near our house, and features a free Carnival, with rides and clowns and bouncy castles and games; as well as the tastes of adventure and fun that brought me back to my childhood, mainly cotton candy and candied apples.  I forced my daughter to inhale the joy that is cotton candy, so that she too may become hyper on sugar and fond memories.

There were also two staging areas with a ten hour flow of entertainment of groups from Israel, including dancers and martial arts and singing.  Many of the dancing groups excited Raphaela, my Prima Ballerina.  However, I can say with certainty that I now have a new favorite Boy Band, KINDERLACH*, a religious choir group made of six boys with great voices and all the moves of Justin Timberlake.  They reek of charisma and sang a full range, moving between hip hop and Israeli rock, rap and classic religious Jewish ritual music.  They captured my heart and I am even going to buy their newest album, the audience (religious and secular) demanded several encores. 

There are people out there who know me well and they are laughing their asses off: I grew up resenting the limitations and misogyny of my Ultra-Orthodox community in New York.  The presentation and tone of this group represents in a certain way everything that I rejected about my upbringing.  And yet, hearing and watching them perform today, it made me warm inside, grinning from ear to ear.

Ironically, the Jerusalem March is based upon the Biblical concept of "Aliyah LaRegel," the trek that ancient Jews made during this set of holidays in the time of the Temple.  Today it translates to Israelis from all parts of Israel walking through their capital, camping out in a park together and embracing all that makes us one nation, accepting of others despite our differences.  Much like the four species that we combine for a blessing on Succot.

Plus the free activities for children who are going stir crazy without the structure of the regular school day.

Now THAT deserves a celebration.

* KINDERLACH, translates into "children" in Yiddish.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Creating Awareness and Opening Worlds

I grew up within a New York Ultra-Orthodox community, though our house adhered to a slightly less stringent more "Modern Orthodox" lifestyle.  In practical terms, it meant that while we were fully committed to the principles of Judaism and the Torah, we also functioned in and enjoyed the real secular world.  My father and mother worked, television and movies were a given,  my mother did not cover her hair except to go to synagogue or perhaps a religious event, we took family vacations which included playing tennis (in shorts) and mixed swimming, and a college education would never be sacrificed for any reason.

As I grew up, in an attempt to define themselves more clearly, American Jewry moved to the right and I remained in the same place, I felt comfortable in myself, essentially proclaiming myself de facto as less religious, more in the realm of "Conservadox" (or Masorti in Israel), more open minded and tolerant than some in my family.

But I decry boxes of any kind, and try not to apply labels under any circumstance.  Every religion on the planet seems to be veering towards the extremes, and I find that both sad and terrifying.

In deciding upon the education of Raphaela, I wanted her to be exposed to the traditions, ritual and values in which I was raised, and so I have chosen to send her to the Nationalist Zionist Religious stream of kindergartens and schools.  She can always create a course for herself when she matures and does not live in my house.  At the same time, I take great pains to point out the importance of acceptance without judgment, teaching her that there is always more than one opinion and more than one way to interpret the word of law.  God is a being of love and mercy, he/she is not waiting with a box of fresh lightning bolts to punish us at every mere thought or mis-step.

This mis-match between our home and her school came to a head this weekend, when Raphaela was helping me set the table for Shabbat.  She put out three chairs, one for me, one for her and one for "the father," whose stand in was her favorite spotted leopard doll.  When it was time to cook, and make the blessing on the candles, it was clear that this is a woman's job, and when it came time to make the blessing on the wine and the bread, the fire works started.  My daughter, the child of a single mother and feminist, insisted that it was preferable for the imaginary father/leopard to take charge, because it was "the man's job."

I explained that in many families, Orthodox or otherwise, a wider and more fulfilling role has been found for the woman, and that God would not mind at all if Mommy made the blessings, considering that we have a special arrangement IE in that at the moment, there is not father actively living with us.  Raphaela did not buy it, unfortunately, and it will be my responsibility to open her eyes; treading that very fine and dangerous line without saying outright that her teachers are not infallible. 

My girl child must know that the only real limits on her life and her personal growth are the ones she places on herself.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Almost three years ago, Raphaela and I traveled to the United States and bounced around various peoples' houses, where my daughter and I at the very least shared a bedroom, if not a bed.  When we got home to Jerusalem, Raphaela decided that she quite enjoyed the arrangement and since then has ended up in my bed at some point during the night, every night.

I have tried various methods of bribery to change this situation, to no avail; but perhaps this year the holiday of Succot will be my savior!

With encouragement from her teacher in kindergarten, Raphaela had expressed an interest in sleeping outside in the Succah.   Because we don't have our own booth this year, I set up instead a sleeping bag on the floor of my room, which Raphaela garnished with her favorite dolls and books and various pillows.  Since last Wednesday, she has also slept on the floor in my clinic office and the living room, and I am slowly edging her out of my bedroom altogether.

To my delight, the game of playing camping on Succot lasts all night and into the next morning, and I get my leg room, pillows and blankets all to myself.   I am hoping to suggest that the floor of her bedroom (or even her bed) works just as well, once the Jewish holiday vacation ends next week.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Full Circle

In a beautiful symmetry, on the evening before her Hebrew birthday,  I took Raphaela tonight for her ballet lesson at the same youth center that once served as a school for recent immigrants to Israel, the place where I took my Hebrew lessons 17 years ago.

Now We are Five

Before Yom Kippur, my allergies stood at a low almost negligible status, but then the 25 hour fast changed all that.  I woke up the morning afterwards feeling beyond lousy, and with barely a voice, a problem given that I had three straight days of work before all shuts down again for the next great holiday of Succot.

Raphaela has on the one hand been totally sympathetic, asking me how I am feeling and informing any stranger on the street or in the store that her "Mommy has a sore throat and terrible allergies."

On the other hand, she takes it personally if I do not give her lengthy answers to her questions, or if I find it difficult to read her bed time stories because it hurts my throat.  She has taken my temporary silence mode personally, proving her five year old logic that Mommies don't get to be sick, ever.

When I do cough, Raphaela uses a phrase that she 'invented'' specifically for the occasion:  "Cough Ghezunt, Mommy."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Like Riding a Bike

On that marvelous evening of Yom Kippur, the streets all over the country become our play ground.  Except for an occasional ambulance or security vehicle, bikes and scooters and strollers and roller blades take over, and the radios and televisions go dead silent.

Every year Raphaela take a late evening stroll down to the usually hazardous main road near our house and meet up with friends.  The children get bigger every year and there is a particular thrill being able to tell a five year old, "It's OK, why don't you go running in the street?"

One of our friends who is himself non-religious, but Yom Kippur observant, told me that he "loves that there is a complete day of rest for 25 hours, that there is so much good with the country shutting down, and that we should do it more often."

Another friend said that she feels like for one night, the streets and city belong to her, being able to see friends and not even have a think about traffic accidents or cable tv or work the next day; it makes you wonder to whom the country belongs the other 364 days of the year.

One of our friends brought an adult bike, and on a whim I asked if I could try it out, ride around a little.  The last time I actively rode was almost 20 years ago, when I biked to Chiropractic school on a regular basis, and so I assumed (foolishly) that it would come back to me in an instant.  At first I felt totally unstable and frightened, and saw myself blacking out in a heap on the pavement.  Then after encouragement I got back on and managed a few blocks, but still felt shaky.

I realized that I probably should get both of us - me and Raphaela - lessons before we head out on the open road on our bicycles.

But that is Yom Kippur, is it not?  Testing our limits and praying and setting new goals.

Today Raphaela and I sat and prayed together, and when I was finished I told Raphaela to take the opportunity of the day to thank G-d for the gifts of our daily life, putting in requests and asking for forgiveness.  My beautiful daughter opened the session with, "Thank you G-d for giving me a good Mommy."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Birth Day!

6:15 am

Raphaela:  Mommy, am I five years old yet?
Mommy:  Yes you are.
Raphaela:  Wow, when I went to sleep last night I was only four, and now I am five!
(Notices that entire house is decorated in Disney Princess and Dora birthday theme)
Raphaela: What a beautiful job the princesses and Dora did while I was sleeping, I will have to write them a thank you note.
Mommy:  (grumbling under my breath)  Someday, my dear, we are going to have serious discussion about the identity of the Tooth Fairy.

7:00 am

Raphaela: Mommy, may I have a special birthday breakfast today?
Mommy:  Does Cheerios with milk count as special?
Raphaela:  (look of death)
Mommy:  How about Cheerios with CHOCOLATE MILK?
Raphaela:  Hooray!

7:30 am

Raphaela:  Mommy, I want to give tzedakah [Hebrew for charity] today in school.
Mommy:  Wonderful idea!
Raphaela:  Can you give me five coins, because now I am five years old?


1:30 pm

After a morning of working, the preparation of the cupcake platter for Raphaela's mini-birthday party at her English group.
 
 
 
3 pm
 
Party time!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Labour Day









Five years ago on this day, October 1, I went into labour in the evening, after being told that I was not open AT ALL (true), and that I was two weeks over due (which I was not); the doctor threatened that I would have to be induced if he didn't see some action by the end of the weekend.

Twelve hours later, and after a completely natural (painful) birth, my darling amazing light-filled daughter came into the world, and quite literally, my life has never been the same.  All that happened before, all I learned and experienced BR ("Before Raphaela") started me on the journey of motherhood. AR ("After Raphaela") I cannot imagine who I would be and where I would find such joy and frustration and wonderment on a daily basis, if not for Raphaela.

My sweetest dearest girl, may you continue to be blessed with health and happiness, growth and wisdom, and may I continue to be able to help you along the path of becoming a fulfilled and completely realized human being.

I can't wait to see what comes next.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pre-Birthday I

(In anticipation of planning a small fifth birthday celebration for Raphaela at her English class on Thursday)

Mommy:  Raphaela, what is your favorite color?
Raphaela:  White, because it contains all the colors inside it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rosh HaShanah 2014


(First picture:  Raphaela, standing on the original stones in the "new" Old City of Jerusalem, street that dates back to the Second Temple)

Raphaela:  (while standing at the Wailing Wall to "talk to God" before Rosh Hashanah)  Mommy, does God speak Hebrew or English?
Mommy:  God speaks all languages, even silly ones, and even when you are not speaking out loud.
Raphaela:  Even Spanish and Chinese?

Every time an Israeli soldier walked by:
Raphaela:  Shanah tovah [Happy New Yearl] soldier!  Thank you for keeping us safe!
I think Raphaela would have rushed over and hugged them if I had let her.

Raphaela:  Mommy, why don't fish heads wear hats?

(In preparing the traditional Rosh Hashanah fish head, I stood at the counter in my kitchen.  About half way through, I realized that our gold fish tank had a front row view of the proceedings, and must be screaming in little gold fish voices at the anguish of their brother, or at least his head.  I quickly apologized and moved my cooking station elsewhere.)





Tuesday, September 16, 2014

This morning, on the way to Gan:  "Mommy, when can I get a real tattoo?"

Delicacies and Danger

This morning's random topic on the way to school was:  Puffer fish.  After explaining to Raphaela that this fish has a special gift to keep it safe under the sea, I mentioned that it was basically poisonous to human beings, and therefore we would not ever eat the puffer fish.  I added that the Japanese make this meal as a luxurious  version of "truth or dare," that some people trust that the chef has removed all the bits that could kill you.

Raphaela (contemplative): Why would a person purposely choose to eat a food that is dangerous and poisonous, that could kill them if it is not prepared properly?
Mom:  Good question. Some people take risks where others don't. And maybe it even tastes yummy...
Raphaela:  Snow White ate a bite of the poisonous apple and died, and then the Prince kissed her and saved her.
Mom:  Also true, but fortunately only a very small group of random magical apples are poisonous.  Most fruits will most definitely not kill us.
Raphaela:  That's good, because I like apples.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Running with Scissors

On Friday, Raphaela asked for the child-safe scissors, so she could cut up some paper project in the living room.  She came back to me about a half hour later and said, "Mommy, I decided that my hair needed a trim, so I gave myself a haircut."

In a panic, I checked her long beautiful hair for signs of random destruction, and other than looking "floofy," it seemed undamaged.  I stared at Raphaela, straight in the eyes, and said, "Honey, I need you to know that I am not going to be angry at you, and I need for you to tell me the truth. How much hair did you cut off?  Can you go to the living room and bring me those pieces of hair so I can see?"

Indeed she did return with the smallest clump of hair, and I told Raphaela how proud I was, that she had told me the truth and showed me the damage even though she thought I might be angry.  I also explained that if she really wants a different hair style, we need to go to a professional hair stylist, we cannot take care of this at home.

On Saturday night, after Shabbat, I tried to use my iPad, and it had quite simply died some time over the weekend.  Fearing that Raphaela had done something, I again called her over and reassured her that I would not be angry, and that I needed to hear the truth; had she played with and/or dropped the machine when I was not in the room with her?

Raphaela swore up and down that she had not touched it, and then conjured up a potential explanation, a la classic Greek mythology:  "Maybe the iPad thought it had wings and tried to fly, and then failed and fell on the floor."  (Very Icarus of her...)

I wanted to believe Raphaela, and since she has in the past been unafraid to admit to the truth I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

Raphaela then added, "Mommy, why is it that we need all these machines around us anyway?"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

It's the Little Things

This morning I went to take a shower and left Raphaela to her own devices.  As long as she doesn't burn the house down I am good to go.  When I came out of the shower, I heard her "reading" from memory the entire text of Dr. Seuss's  classic The Cat in the Hat.  When I asked her what she was doing, she said, "I am reading my favorite book to my friends."

You've never heard a great rendition of this book until you've heard it in the cutest Israeli accent.

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After dropping Raphaela off at Gan, I happened to pass by her most excellent nursery teacher (H) from last year, she works in the same building as Raphaela's classroom this year.  H casually mentioned to me, "I heard that Raphaela is adapting really beautifully to her Kindergarten this year."

That's enough to keep me smiling all day.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Speech Therapy II

Apparently Raphaela performs better in many areas when I am not present in the room, so yesterday I dropped her off at Speech Therapy and took a walk.  When I returned a half hour later, Raphaela had just finished playing a game, and the speech therapist  (Y) asked her, "Who won, you or me?"

Though Raphaela had more points than Y, she hesitated and not wanting to create hurt feelings, she then answered, "We both won."

Y insisted that Raphaela do a re-count and told her that it was OK, even good, to win a game, and it was OK, even good, to own the feeling.

Then Y told me a story about the session:  in the middle of their therapy/play, Y pretended to cry because she was losing, and Raphaela got out of her chair, gave Y a big hug and said, "There there, we don't cry over a card game!"

Saturday, September 6, 2014

One of Raphaela's classmates and friends came back to school this year with significantly shorter hair, she had donated her long pony tail for wigs for cancer patients. Kudos to this little girl, and the moral education she is getting from her parents.

Today Raphaela and I were discussing the theoretical concept of haircuts, since she has made it clear that princesses have long hair, now and forever.
RR: But I will get my hair cut very soon.
Mom: When?
RR: I will give you a hint...when is it that I turn 12 years old?

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Brushing Raphaela's hair in the morning can become traumatic for all involved;  this morning instead of crying, Raphaela said to me, "Mommy, we have to pray to G-d for help in getting rid of all these knots!"

(Apparently, in response to the upcoming Jewish holidays, the Gan has been doing a segment on the power of prayer.)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tales of Horror Dating

Shortly after I moved to Israel 17 years ago, more Jerusalem-ites than I could count -matchmakers, friends, random humans - would say, "Oh, there's this guy 'M' who would be the perfect match for you, he's your soul mate. You must date him!"  After several years of continually hearing this name, I told these well-meaning people to convert their thoughts into action and actually arrange for us to meet. I gave them permission to give him my cell phone number, so we could talk and start the process rolling.

One afternoon, my cell phone (which serves as the primary contact for my clinic) rang and I answered the phone, professionally, "Hello! You have reached the doctor. How can I help you?"

After a minute of silence and static on the other end, M ripped into me for close to ten minutes;, calling me an arrogant bitch, how dare I use my professional credentials to make him feel lousy about himself and the fact that he is "in between jobs," and how having called me now makes him unwilling to ever meet me in person.  Before hanging up, I calmly explained to him that he had called my work phone during the day, that he had ginormous issues, and that I was grateful that we would never meet in person.

Flash forward to this week, and a matchmaker called me to suggest "a boy" who might be appropriate for me, "in certain respects."  Not more than ten words to describe this boy/man and I asked the match maker if his name was M; the woman seemed surprised that I had guessed at this information, because when she told him about me he didn't know who I was and did not remember having ever spoken to me.

I suggested that it was near impossible, since there are so few female Chiropractors in Jerusalem, and because he had in fact spoken to me rather rudely that last time someone tried to set us up as a potential couple, way before I became a single mother.

"No," the matchmaker woman insisted, "he doesn't know you or remember you.  He seemed very pleased to learn that you are a doctor, because he is looking to get married so he can increase the income in the house, in order to pay his bills and his alimony to his ex-wife, and the child support he owes for his three children."

Yep, that's what she really said, no more and no less.

"Perhaps I misunderstand," I stated carefully, "but are you telling me that the only reason he wants to meet me and the only reason he sees me as a potential wife is so I can contribute my bank account and my earnings toward his unsuccessful life and his unpaid bills?" 

"Oh no, " the matchmaker said, "he thinks it might also be nice to meet you.  But he wanted me to be honest and upfront with you regarding his true intentions."

"OK," I started, counting to ten in my head before continuing, "please let him know that I remember him very well, and that it is most convenient to discount and berate a woman for being a professional when it bruises your ego, and then embrace her success when it works out to pay off his debts.  Please tell him, and please consider this for all your clients, that when a man or a woman says, 'I want to marry for money,' it is a complete turnoff."

I ended the conversation by respectfully requesting that this terrible matchmaker  take me off all of her lists, that I had no interest in working with an insensitive individual who obviously learned the craft at the Kris Kardasian School of Greed and Barely Human Interaction.

Victory!

At 10:15 am this Friday morning, Issac delivered the beds for my niece and nephew.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

I Do Not Make This Up

On the way home today from a day of Gan, Raphaela sat in the back in the car and asked, "Mommy, why are there evil people in the world?"

I explained to her that the most treasured aspect of our humanity is our soul, which gives us the ability to make better choices or worse choices.  I explained to her that above all else, our actions define us to the outside, whereas our thoughts define us inside our head.  "Evil people are humans who made the wrong choice, the selfish choice, the decision to hurt other people rather than help them.  But there is also a special place for forgiveness.  A bad choice can be unmade, changed into a better choice.  We are never stuck or trapped by our decisions."

Raphaela refined her question:  "But why does there have to be sad things and bad things in the world?"

Trying to understand the subtle difference between the two queries, I said, "G-d created us, and then gave us this freedom of choice, and also made some sort of decision not to step in every time we do something stupid or hurtful.  There is good as there is bad, there is light as there is dark.  It is our job to think about how our actions affect ourselves, our lives and the people around us. And to learn from our mistakes."

[Thinking to myself, "I can't believe I am having this conversation with a five year old..."]

When we pulled into our parking spot, Raphaela had a plastic cup in her hand which she threw on the ground outside the car.  Very Israeli as things go, unfortunately.  I stopped and looked her in the eyes, and said quietly, "Can we rethink that choice?"  My daughter immediately picked up the cup and said, "You're right Mom, I shouldn't have littered, I will throw this out upstairs."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Second Chances

This morning, somewhere before six am, my daughter asked me, "Mommy, what do you want to be when you grow up?"

Bleary eyed and bleary brained, I answered, "I always wanted to be an astronaut and go into space.  But now that NASA canceled their manned space program, it is my dream to take off at least six months to a year from work and travel around the world."

What then ensued was a heated philosophical question between myself and Raphaela, my five year old initially arguing that we only have one go-around at life, and that I won't get a second-chance career as an astronaut. "God only gives you one chance to get it right!" she said.   I eventually convinced her regarding the merits of reincarnation.  (True story, not exaggerating!)

Later, my friend Rachel suggested what would have been the perfect answer to Raphaela's original question namely, "When I grow up, I want to be an adult who gets to sleep past six am."

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Customer Service, Israel Style

My younger brother, his wife and four children (aged one to Second Grade) moved to Israel almost three weeks ago, and have chosen to live in Jerusalem in the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Har Nof. They came for Zionist and idealistic reasons, my brother told me that he cannot see raising his family within the American value system;  none of them speak Hebrew and they are about to get a crash course on life in the Jewish country.

This morning, my sister-in-law called me and asked, "We ordered beds for the kids and they were supposed to come this week.  I spoke to the company this morning and they said that they are not sure when the beds will be delivered, maybe this week or maybe next week.  Is that normal customer service?"

Instinctively I laughed, not at the question but because I could recognize the American attitude and expectation over the phone.  "Welcome to Israel!" I bellowed. "The country where nothing ever really gets accomplished unless you yell and threaten, in Hebrew."

Then I asked for the suppliers phone number, because that's what family does for each other, especially when I in fact speak Hebrew and can shout with the best of them.  Otherwise, my nieces and nephews may never see a normal place to sleep.

Me:  Hello, is this Issac? I am calling on behalf of my brother, they ordered beds for their children and I understand that you were very unclear about the delivery date.
Issac:  Ah, I see that you actually speak Hebrew.  Thank G-d, I broke my teeth trying to speak in English on the phone.  Yes, I will admit that I am the person from whom your family ordered the beds.  But I don't know when they will be delivered.
Me:  What's the problem with the order?  These children came from the United States three weeks ago, they started school yesterday and they go to sleep on the floor at night. Don't they deserve a decent bed?
Issac:  Oh, you KNOW those Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, too many children and everyone sleeping on the floor and everything is always an emergency.
Me:  (gobsmacked)  So because they are more religious than you or me, their money and their needs are any less valid? I have my own issues with the Chareidi world but I am calling you right now as an Israeli and as a sister and as an aunt.  We must support and encourage the people who choose to live in our country, despite all sanity.
Issac:  It's like I told your sister-in-law, I can't make any promises.
Me:  You have no idea what kind of sacrifices my family made to be Jews in Israel.  Four children moved away from everything they know, from a country where they actually speak the language and have friends, where they each had their own bedroom and space to spare, and they moved into a two bedroom apartment for six people.  The least you could do is get them their beds, when you actually promised to deliver them.
Issac:  OK, OK.  I will do the best I can to deliver it this week, as I had said originally.
Me:  I'll be calling you back to make sure.

Because I will.

I wish I had a personal nagger on my side when I first moved to Israel 17 years ago.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Year Older

The physical therapist had suggested a group physical activity, in order to increase Raphaela's self-confidence in a group setting.  The Talmud states that it is the parent's supreme responsibility to teach a child how to swim, literally a matter of life and death.  I figured that we had taken a break from swimming lessons, and I love the water:  I had worked for many years as a lifeguard at a lake near our house in Boston.  Since  Raphaela has shown so much maturity this Summer, why not try again.

I found a class down the block from our house, and the director of the swim program seemed quite efficient and understanding of the psyche of young children.  We arrived at the pool this evening, Raphaela spent ten to fifteen minutes rolling around the floor, explaining that she refused to go into the pool because she did not like the ladder;  it was one of those ladders that perhaps seems scary because it is carved in the side of the wall.  Then when she finally agreed to go into the water, she held onto the instructor Anna for dear life, practically choking the poor woman; after screaming, "This is too hard, too hard!, she was eventually asked to leave the pool.

The director of the pool swimming classes suggested that (a) perhaps Raphaela is too young for lessons or (b) perhaps we need to start with a series of private one-on-one classes to help overcome the fear or (c) I should randomly take Raphaela to the pool with me and "play around" and blow bubbles until she increases her comfort zone.  In any case, I await his call.

On the way home, Raphaela asked me if I was angry at her, if she was going to get a punishment. I assured her that I cannot be angry at her if something scares her, but that I would be quite disappointed if she doesn't even give new experiences a try.  I told her that very often, things do not go your way the very first time, and you must push through failure in order to get better and have that satisfaction of knowing that you overcame your fears.

"But I want my life to be easy.  Easy EASY.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy!"

I reminded Raphaela that for example, when she was a baby, she didn't know how to walk.  And that when she decided to start walking, there was lots of falling and mis-steps.  And that if she had given up on walking, she would not be a big girl today, a girl in Kindergarten who can walk and run and jump and skip and hop and climb ladders and dance.

Then I asked Raphaela if she had any ideas about what she wanted to be when grew up.  She immediately answered, "A soldier and a doctor, and a doctor for soldiers and animals."

Mommy:  Those are wonderful goals.  Do you think it is hard or easy to learn to be a doctor?
Raphaela:  Easy.
Mommy:  Nope!  Mommy had to work very hard and learn a lot of things and take a lot of tests to become a doctor.  I work hard every day too.   If you want to be a doctor some day, and I am sure you will make an excellent grown-up, you will have to work hard.
Raphaela:  Why?
Mommy:  Because if you give up and don't try, you will never know what you are truly capable of.

Raphaela was quiet on the way home, and when I tucked her in tonight, I looked her straight in the eyes and told her this story:  "Mommy really wanted to be your Mommy, and I went to the hospital and ate healthy and exercised and prayed to G-d, asking for the most special and wonderful baby Raphaela.  It didn't work right away, it certainly wasn't easy, and I kept asking G-d to help me and I cried a lot, but I kept trying, I never gave up.  Because if I had said, 'This hurts too much, this is too hard,' if I had stopped trying, I wouldn't be the luckiest Mommy in the world right now.  And I am so glad that I kept trying and finally got my dream."

Post-script:  Tomorrow afternoon we are scheduled to scope out a pre-ballet class. Oy.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

First Day of Kindergarten

How do you celebrate the last hurrah of Summer vacation?  You wake up late, have chocolate cake for breakfast, hang out at the pool and play with your cousins.
 
 
On the morning of the first day of school, all of a sudden the streets of Jerusalem are backed up with cars,  and you have a "schedule" for better or for worse.
 
What do you do the first day of school?  You wear a new dress, take your new water bottle and give Mommy instructions about snacks for the lunchbox, see your old friends and new friends and tell Mommy she can leave, that you can handle it from here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Speech Therapy

After wading through the beaurocracy of the Ministry of Health, Raphaela has finally begun speech therapy to correct a minor case of Elmer Fudd Syndrome, which seems to appear only with the Hebrew spoken "R" and not its parallel in English.  The plan is to deal with small problems of pronunciation now, before first grade next Fall.

Contrary to the admonitions I have received since before Raphaela's birth, the speech therapist was wholly supportive of my daughter's frequent transitions between English and Hebrew, and suggested that I "go with the flow of the conversation," rather than enforcing an English-only rule in the house.  She also gave me helpful suggestions how to phrase my grammar corrections as a cooperative rather than a critical process.

In order to master the Hebrew "R" the speech therapist devised a fun and slightly messy game of gargling water, and Raphaela participated with gusto, laughing when more of the water ended up on her shirt instead of inside her mouth.  Raphaela's purred loudly, practically roaring, and when the speech therapist asked her why she needed so much force, my Israeli daughter (the one experiencing a war) said, "That way I scare away the bad guys!"

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I Won't Take a Bath

On the way home from Nature Camp yesterday, Raphaela started a sentence with, "I really hate that..." and I immediately interrupted her. I explained to her that the word "hate" is very strong, hurts people's feelings, and brings lots of negative energies with it;  just witness the 3,000 year turmoil in the Middle East, the hate has become so strong that everyone has forgotten why we are all still fighting.

I set down the rule of law in our house, that we do not use that word to explain our feelings, and that we apply the concept very sparingly, when it is actually deserved.  Raphaela immediately amended her original sentence, saying, 'I really don't like when...."

I presume she picked up that word in camp.

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When Raphaela comes home from camp, she is hyper and dirty and sweaty and exhausted, all in the good sense of having had a full and active day. During the summer we have pushed up bath time, mostly because Raphaela wants to change into a clean set of clothing when we get home.

It took a bit of effort to convince her yesterday to strip down and jump in the bath, thus started the frustration of the evening.  Then she started jumping in the water, sliding all over the place and making waves that splashed out on the floor.  Mommy does not like cleaning up local flooding. 

During one of her gymnastic endeavors, she jumped so high that the water pushed her over the edge of the bathtub, flipping and comically landing on the floor in a twisted lump.  I was afraid to turn her over and expected to see a chipped or lost tooth, and certainly copious amounts of blood that would necessitate a visit to the emergency room at Shaarei Zedek hospital.

Turns out, instead of landing on the hard tiled floor and cracking her head open, she landed...on my foot.  And instead of losing teeth she got scratched with only mildly bleeding.  My toe though not broken, started throbbing.

My parenting brain froze:  I wanted to make sure she understood that her behavior was dangerous, and at the same time I felt immensely grateful to G-d that it was a minor injury, a scratch that will fade within a few days.

What came out of my mouth came straight from the Polish shtetl, "Young lady, you don't know how lucky you are, you really could have hurt yourself just now and instead you are a little scratched up. No need to go to the hospital, pthoo pthoo. I don't care if you were trying to break the Olympic record for jumping in the bathtub, you need to be more careful."

Ughh, I totally feel like I could have handled that better.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Daniel Tragerman Z"L

This past Friday, a four year old boy named Daniel Tragerman was killed by a Hamas bomb, fired from the premises of an UNWRA school.  He died because there was only 15 seconds between the launch and the impact, and his parents did not have enough time to bring all three of their children to safety.

A few things need to be said here:

1.  Shame on the United Nations for keeping uncharacteristically silent when a child was killed in the Middle East by the other side. Oh, that's right, sorry, they only accuse Israel of murder when Hamas uses their own children as human shields.

2.  Israel is fighting a war with a group of people, a made-up nation, that does not believe in the sanctity of life;  they eagerly sacrifice those they love, their husbands and brothers and their innocent children.  It pains me no end for the Palestinian civilians, the ones who just want to get out of Aza now, alive.  As a reminder for the international lobotomized community, Hamas started this, and they will not be satisfied until all Jews, all over the globe, are dead, and if it means trampling over the corpses of their own people, so be it.

3.  I cannot wrap my head around a religion and/or culture that somehow manages to delete that basic maternal instinct that puts the LIFE and safety of a child over all else.

A video going around Facebook features a happy smiley Palestinian mother who told the following story:  her young daughter expressed an interest in becoming a suicide bomber, a desire to kill as many Israelis along the way.  The mother responded that she would support her daughter, and that she would only be pleased if her daughter came home in a "body bag," because otherwise it would indicate that she failed in her "holy mission."

3.  To paraphrase a bumper sticker I saw on a car last week, I will always choose and defend my child over my enemies, the enemies of my child's future.  F**k the moral high ground.

Years ago, the New York Times Magazine featured an editorial piece by a woman (who remained anonymous) who wrote about her dilemma, she was pregnant with triplets and had been told by doctors that if she carried all three fetuses to term, at least one of the babies would be born dead or would have to live with debilitating and limiting health issues.  This potential mother went on to describe her internal deliberations, and surprisingly, revealed her decision to the readership of the newspaper.  She and her husband chose to "terminate" the two fetuses who were identical twins, because she couldn't bear the idea that some day one of the twins would ask why he/she was spared over her identical sibling.

This mother had to make an awful choice, and subsequently came under fire by most who read the article.  Daniel Tragerman's parents didn't willfully choose two of their children over the other,  Hamas murdered their son, and they will never get to see him grow up.