Friday, February 28, 2014

Core Values

Because children grow up so quickly, and because girls in particular become very aware way too soon of the "classic" IE airbrushed concept of beauty, I have taken a very strong stance to remind Raphaela that we must, as women, first and foremost love and respect our own bodies.

Every day I allow Raphaela to put on "lipstick" (actually Vaseline or Chap Stick), but I have agreed in principle that she may wear real make up ( lip gloss, a touch of eye shadow and possibly blush) on special occasions, which include being the Shabbat Ima at Gan, major Jewish holidays or family weddings.

Nail polish goes without saying, even on a regular day.

This morning we were walking to Gan and Raphaela said, to no one in particular, "I am so beautiful!  Of course I would be even more beautiful if I could have put on make up this morning." (Wink wink, nudge nudge...)

I stopped and got down to eye level and told her that no amount of make up could make someone beautiful on the outside if they were ugly on the inside.

"You are beautiful on the inside, you have a kind and loving heart, and that is what makes you beautiful also on the outside.  I will always love you, and I will always be proud of your beautiful soul."

Raphaela understood and I will continue to reinforce this message for her, but I doubt if that will stop the march of  the damaging commercialism aimed at our children.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Imagination Under Attack

Raphaela's alter ego is Baby Unicorn.  Baby Unicorn has magical powers, scares away frightening thoughts, loves to snuggle under the covers, and often expresses what Raphaela is feeling deep inside.  As a mother I am totally cool with this imaginary friend as a part of our family.

Yesterday while shopping, I saw a sparkly unicorn shirt for Raphaela, and had to buy it for her,  (especially because it was on sale, end of the season) and told her she  could wear it to school the next day.

Apropos of nothing, on the way to Gan this morning, Raphaela quietly and sadly informed me that her teachers have instructed her that (a) Unicorns are not real and that (b) when she is on the premises of Gan, she is not allowed to transform into Baby Unicorn.  My daughter seemed almost ashamed of her new shirt.

Quite frankly, I felt shocked and a little bit angry.  I have discussed with Raphaela's teachers her vivid and beautiful creativity and have made it clear that as long as it does not interfere with her functioning in school on social or academic grounds, there is no reason to be critical.  I had thought that we were on the same page.

Telling Raphaela that unicorns do not exist almost invalidates an essential part of herself.

So I took initiative when we arrived at her classroom, pointing out to one of her teachers that Raphaela had received this new and special piece of clothing from me. 

Teacher:  Wow, this Unicorn thing is really entrenched in her psyche.  You really ought to be careful that you don't encourage her in this silliness.
Me:  I think that a touch of silliness is important for everyone in life, don't you? Especially when life in Israel can get very scary and serious.
Teacher:  (no response)
Me:  I mean, without some magic and wonderment and a belief in miracles, what is there?

Play Date Heartbreak

My daughter, Little Miss Social Butterfly, had asked me to arrange a play date with her friend M for this afternoon, after school.  When I picked up the children, both she and her friend were grinning ear to ear and making all sorts of plans for their time together at our house.

As we got closer to our street, the boy started to fret and asked me to take him to his house.  Though he could not be specific about his discomfort, he clearly wanted to abort this play date, which then caused Raphaela to crumple on the side walk and cry in the face of a perceived rejection.

I assured M that I would respect whatever he was feeling, and after dropping him off, Raphaela was inconsolable.  I explained to her that both children and grown ups sometimes get into a situation where they get afraid and plans change;  that M is still her good friend and that he does not think any less of her or their friendship; that her sense of frustration and disappointment is totally normal; and that M can come another day, when he is feeling less anxious.

We then spent a better part of the afternoon on a special project, transforming a large empty IKEA box into an airplane, whereupon we 'flew' to the United States to visit my brother and his family.  I can only assume that Raphaela and I had more leg room in our airplane (Air Susie) than we will in reality when we fly to the United States this summer for my youngest brother's wedding.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Today, after dropping off Raphaela at Gan, I had a few hours free before work.
I got into my car and sat in Route One traffic, got to IKEA without getting lost and was one of the first customers in the store.
For a change, I had brought a shopping list, basically stuck to the list and did not exceed my planned budget.
I ate Swedish meatballs, had no near miss driving experiences on the way home on the highway,  and got home in time to pick up Raphaela.

These are all big things for me, each step along the way, marred only by the fact that I did not have a friend to accompany me and enjoy the day trip to Sweden.  It's the little touches, a new throw pillow or bathmat or laundry basket, that freshens up the house.

Now someone has to help me together all this stuff...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

One of our favorite books these days is "Emily Brown and the Elephant Emergency," which features a girl with an exceptional imagination and her favorite stuffed animal, a bunny named Stanley.  This book, part of the Emily Brown series, particularly pokes fun at Helicopter Parenting as well, the graphics are brilliant, and it makes for a good read for the adult and the child.

It also helps that the book can be found online (YouTube), read by our  favorite actor and the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant.  (I fully admit to the celebrity crush.)

This morning as I was getting dressed, Raphaela sat on the bed flipping through Emily Brown, and I said, "Emily Brown has a special friend named Stanley."

Raphaela thought for a minute and then replied, "And Stanley has a special friend in Emily Brown."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Theology 101

When I was about ten years old, I very distinctly recall asking the Rabbi of our local synagogue the following question:  "God created us, but who gave birth to God?"

The Rabbi stammered for five minutes, and quoted several lines from the Hebrew  prayer "Adon Olam" [translated as Master of the World] including, "God has been, is now and always will be."  Then he sent me off to my father.

I remember thinking that the answer was shoddy at best, and if the Rabbi had said to me, "Great question, I wish I had a full answer that would satisfy your intelligence and curiosity, but I don't.  God is, always has been, way before you or I were born.  And there are mysteries of the Universe that we cannot fully understand in our limited human capacity."  At least he would have been honest to me and to himself.

The Rabbi may as well have quoted Monty Python (Meaning of Life) to me:  "Oh Lord, you are so great.  And really really big...We're all very impressed down here."

Walking home from Gan yesterday, Raphaela and I had one of our more deep conversations:

RR:  Mommy, Hashem knows everything, right?
Me:  Yes.
RR:  And you know everything, right?
Me: (emphatically) No I do not, I know a lot of things, and at the moment I know more about the world than you do.  But I do not know everything and I am just as human as the rest, I will make mistakes and so will you.
RR:  Does Hashem take care of everyone or only Good People?
Me:  Hashem created all of us, and because we are all his children, he loves us all the time, even if we are not behaving nicely, and he takes care of all of us.
(I then reminded Raphaela that on Pessach we take away some of our wine to remember all the Egyptians who were killed, knowing that just because they enslaved us, they were also God's children and God loved them too.)
RR:  But Hashem punishes Bad People.
Me:  Life is not about reward and punishment, everything that happens to us is there to teach us something.  Good People will not always get great things, and Bad People will not always get terrible things.  Everything that happens to us is there to help us become better and kinder to each other.
RR:  But Hashem prefers it if we behave nicely, right?
Me:  Absolutely.

Loving this age...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Only in Israel

Standing in line at the bakery on Palmach this morning to get supplies for Shabbat, and I found myself almost falling asleep standing.  When someone asked me why I was so tired, I explained that I had started, and finished, an entire novel last night, and went to sleep much later than I had intended.

All of a sudden, from somewhere in the bakery, I hear, "Well, I wouldn't want to be your husband!"

I turned around and asked this gentlemen to explain himself, and he said, "I like my women pretty like you, but much less intelligent."

( I give the man points for honesty.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In Gan yesterday, Raphaela's teacher told the story of "Stone Soup" ["Button Soup" in Hebrew] and cooked a Button Soup for the kids for snack.  Raphaela looked at me with a very practical face and said, "Mommy, it's actually only a vegetable soup."

When picking up Raphaela from English class, I hung out on the side a little while my daughter wrapped up her day with her friends.  Soon, like the Pied Piper, I had a group of boys and girls coming over to me and telling me jokes and playing with me; I was then declared by Raphaela's friends as "the cool fun Mom."

I will remind Raphaela of that assessment when she enters her teenage years.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Today is the 13th anniversary of the day in which I was almost shot dead by a Palestinian sniper on my way home from work, during the Second Intifada.

Very much alive, I am happy to report that I almost forgot this event, since I am too busy obsessing about my right knee, which I injured yesterday, and determined that with recovery time I can still run the 10K in the Jerusalem Marathon in March.

Hobbling and limping through the metal detector at the supermarket today, the buzzer went off.  After finding no reasonable explanation, the guard smiled at me and said, "A beautiful woman can also set it off."

Boy, did I need that to get me through the day.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day

I normally become the Grinch on this day, which excludes from happiness all those who do not have someone who will buy them flowers or chocolate, or make the day more special than usual.  I think to myself, normally, wouldn't it be nice to have someone (besides me) tell me what a wonderful sexy woman and mother I am, or alternatively, someone who would do the cooking and errands today instead of me.  I'll accept either option.

This year on Valentine's Day I picked up Raphaela from Gan and drove to the zoo.  There we sat and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the beautiful sunshine of an un-rushed Friday in Jerusalem, with a gorgeous view of the flowering of the almond trees; we munched while Raphaela told me of her adventures in Gan today.  Because you must enjoy every joyous moment when it presents itself, and damn the Hallmark holiday.

In the background, the zoo sponsored a free concert of Simon and Garfunkel type musicians, who sang (for the most part) songs old and new about the glory of love.

When they sang "50 Ways to Leave your Lover," they apologized to the audience.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Lest We Forget

Raphaela is now four and a half, and it has been at least a few years since someone has made a snide or inappropriate comment about my status as a single mother by choice.

I think the Universe wanted to remind me today that I had done a brave thing, and to test my resolve at viewing myself and our non-traditional family as loving and normal, rather than a freak of nature in the Orthodox world.

A patient (with children, though seeming intolerant of the younger set in general) started telling me about the wonderful synagogue right down the road from my house, how this person (who shall remain nameless  and genderless) has so many friends who pray there, and how it seems like such a welcoming community.

I then made a comment that in my own experience, the members of that synagogue are for the most part old fashioned and somewhat non-welcoming to those who defy the standard rules of the Orthodox Jewish community.

Patient:  Why would you say that?
Me:  Because when I have walked in there with my daughter, we have been largely ignored and once or twice verbally accosted.
Patient:  Why would they do something like that?
Me:  Apparently they have a problem with a Jewish single mother by choice.
Patient:  Well why don't you just lie about the circumstances of her conception, so that you will be more acceptable to them, and to the larger Jewish community?
Me:  (Chin flat on floor, brain screaming inside, taking a minute to breathe again)  Why should I have to make up a story, to make myself more acceptable as a Jew or as a mother of an innocent child?  Shouldn't they be the ones who reach out to me, and who open their mind to 21rst Century Judaism and the reality of Israel?
Patient:  (Heavy Silence)

And THAT is why I need to eventually move to another neighborhood in Jerusalem, where many of my tolerant and accepting friends with children live.  Men and women who are both married and raising their children together; and women who like me, chose to not miss the opportunity to experience pregnancy and bring a beautiful child into the world.

People who understand that a Mom is a Mom is a Mom.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Jerusalem Marathon I

After my Great Uncle died, his 86 year old sister Ida wrote to me and told me that I should not take a single day or a single person for granted.  And it got me thinking.

Raphaela is now four and a half, and it is time I took my body back.  It has been five years since I was running regularly, and two years since I last ran the Jerusalem Marathon.  I am quite tired of looking at that little bit of belly fat left over from my pregnancy, when I know as a Chiropractor I could actually do something about it, make it go away with consistent effort and hard work.

So I went online and signed up for the 10K Jerusalem Marathon.  I sat down and wrote up a calendar, showing me how many days I had to train properly.  I pulled my second-hand Treadmill out of storage and stuck it in the only available space in my house, taking up all the floor space in my bedroom.

When Raphaela saw the Treadmill, she assumed it was a fancy clothing hanger, because it had served that purpose for far too long.  Now, my daughter will be proud of me when she sees me run, victorious, healthy and happy.

I have devised both short term and long term goals for my training:
1.  Deadline, Purim (16/3/14):  I want to be able to show off my legs with pride in my Tardis Purim costume.
2.  Deadline, Marathon (21/3/14):  I don't care if I finish in professional time, but I am going to run that Marathon without pain or ungainly effort, cross the finish line and get my medal.
3.  Deadline, Bro's Wedding (13/7/14):  Must look smoking in the family pictures, as they will be on display for time immemorial.
4.  Deadline, 46th Birthday (24/7/14):  Beach day, one word:  Bikini

Truth be told, I am my own worst critic.  When I look in the mirror, I think that I look slightly pregnant, when I don't.  When I run 4 km after a break of two years, I criticize myself because I could have done more, once upon a time.

So my fifth and most important goal is to realize that the outside world makes women feel like S**t for no apparent reason, and I do not have to be a size zero to love myself, and be considered a sexy and date-able Mom.

I am not taking myself for granted anymore.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Wedding Day

The wedding day of Yitzchak the Righteous and Rivka the Beautiful and Brilliant has arrived!

At five am, Raphaela woke me up and asked if she could have nail polish and a tattoo for the occasion.

By six am Raphaela was not only fully dressed in her festive outfit, she had put on her coat and backpack.  She followed me around the house, asking if I was ready to leave for Gan, and camped out in the bathroom while I took a shower, to make sure I was not wasting time.

On the way to Gan she informed me that her personal intended date/groom for the day was a boy in her class named Yonatan.  I think I will have to do a background check on this family, make sure he can take care of my Princess in the manner to which she is accustomed...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Little Doctor Who

When we were little and stuck inside the car on endless road trips, ["Mom, he's putting his feet on my side of the seat!" "Mom, she's staring at me and making faces." "Dad, I have to throw up." ] my parents used to tell us that if we blew really hard, we could change the traffic light from red to green.

My brother and I would wait for their signal, and then we would gather out deepest breath, and delight in the fact that we personally had changed the light to green.

Every morning on the way to Gan, Raphaela takes her "Sonic Screwdriver" - a la Doctor Who, but actually a large paint brush - and uses it to change the pedestrian signal from red to green.  She waits for my ok, points her Sonic Screwdriver at the intersection and makes a loud beep-like sound.  Lo and behold, she assists all those standing and waiting to walk across the street, bringing her joy as well. "Good job, I did it!"

The Play Date Genie

Unimpressed with my skills as Raphaela's social secretary, she and her friend L decided to work out the details of a play date all on their own.  I arrived at her English class today, and Raphaela informed me that she and L would be spending some time together this afternoon.

Mommy:  I know you want to set up a play date, but first we have to talk to L's Mommy.
[As if on cue, L's Mommy walks into the room.]
Mommy:  The girls would like to have a play date, what does next week look like for you?
L's Mommy: Oh, didn't they tell you? The girls arranged a play date for today, at our house.
Mommy:  Really?
L's Mommy:  Yeah, I thought you knew.  Anyway, we will take Raphaela home, and don't come too soon, they want to spend a lot of time together.

All of a sudden, gobsmacked by the concept that my four and a half year old and her friend arranged the whole thing by themselves, I found myself with a free two hours, and no real need to cook dinner for Raphaela, as she will eat there.

A part me is doing a major dance inside my head and a part of me has no idea how to fill free time.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Old Mother Hubbard

Between the wonderful visit of my brother and his family, and the unfortunate and sudden interruption of routine from the funeral yesterday, our cupboards are bare and I need to go to the supermarket, badly.

Because I work when Raphaela plays/learns at Gan, I have not had the chance to make this essential trip, and so I told Raphaela this morning that we would have a Great Adventure at the super this afternoon, after school and English class.

Raphaela:  Do I have to go with you? I wanted to have a play date with my friend E or L.
[My daughter has a busier social calendar than I, if she had her way, every day would include a play date.]
Mommy:  I have not spoken with their mothers and arranged it yet for this week, and we do need to stock our refrigerator with food.
Raphaela: You can't go while I am in Gan?
Mommy:  Not really, I am busy being a doctor during the day.
Raphaela:  (Pause to think) OK!  I will be a terrific helper at the supermarket.

Postscript:  As a warning to all parents, do not take a four and a half year old to the supermarket, no matter how well behaved.  It will take much longer than usual, and you just might lose a little piece of your sanity along the way.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Life of Bitzi

Over this past Shabbat, I would remember my uncle and get sad, once or twice bursting into tears.  Raphaela at first found the phenomenon confusing or funny, and so I explained to her that people cry when they are happy or sad, and that it is perfectly OK to express emotion that way.  I explained to her that I am very sad that my uncle is "very sick," and that's why I am crying.

Raphaela listened, and then sat on the kitchen floor for ten minutes, trying to evoke the emotion of grief and making similar crying sounds that I had made, but it was play acting.  When I asked her why she was crying, she replied logically, "Because Uncle Bitzi is very sick."

When that experience didn't quite satisfy her need to empathize with me, she instead threw me a big birthday party, using all the toys in the house, "so that you will be happy, Mommy."

Which brought me to the larger questions of life and death, mainly, how do you explain death to a four and a half year old?  Especially living in Israel,  where the daily news consists of reports about terror and fatalities, I assume that at some point Raphaela will get the idea, and it will become part of her understood lexicon.  As her mother, I feel a need (perhaps misplaced) to protect her from the fear and the ugliness of facing death.

Not that I personally believe that death is ugly:  when Ronald Reagan was President, a television movie called "The Day After" aired, and we sat as a family to watch it together.  It was the first time that any program had specifically dealt with the Russian-American hostilities, and it showed in graphic detail the gruesome deaths of humans across the globe, pre and post-nuclear winter.  I could not fall asleep that night, seeing in my head myself and everyone I loved dying because someone on the planet pushed the red button.  The television show burned itself into my brain.

My father sat with me and explained:  "The path of your life has already been determined by G-d. You could die from choking on a hot dog, you could drown in the bath tub, or you could get fried by nuclear war.  The trick is to live every life to its fullest, make every day count, because you never really know if it will be your last."

That message has accompanied me and given me comfort all my life, and when I was almost killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2001, and survived, it only renewed my sense of purpose, I embraced my second chance at life.  Since I also believe in reincarnation, I know that death represents the end on this physical plane, but there is so much more, and that comforts me as well.

Raphaela on the other hand, has no real understanding of the finality of death.  When she saw a cat flattened (and clearly dead) on the road, she said to me, "Mommy, that cat is very broken. You are a doctor, you can fix it."  So telling her that her uncle is dead, that she will never see him again, it didn't seem to penetrate.

Unless I can get a useful solution from someone like Mister Rogers or Dr. Phil, I will continue to shield Raphaela from the absolute grief and sadness.  I know in my heart that her first real encounter with death will probably be vis a vis our cat Harry, who is going on 12 years now.  Israeli cats who go outside expose themselves to danger and do not live to be 18 or 20, and at some point her best friend in the house and feline companion will leave this Earthly plane, and then we will deal with it together.