Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lessons Learned

Every week on Shabbat I give Raphaela her grape juice in a small ceramic Kiddush cup, and every week I ask myself, "Is this the time that it falls and shatters into a million pieces?"  And every week I trust my daughter and the cup survives to live another day.

Today during lunch, Raphaela seemed to paying less attention and the Kiddush cup made its way to the floor, breaking in enough smaller parts so as to be permanently unfixable.  At first, Raphaela continued eating, completely ignoring the situation.  I showed her the broken cup and she shrugged her shoulders, saying, "It's fine Mommy, you can glue it back together."

I pointed out that contrary to her belief than I can either fix anything or simply go our and buy a replacement, this particular ceramic ("not plastic") vessel has been in my possession for years, and it is unclear if I could even find the artist who made it, in order to find a new version.  Even Miracle Mom has her limits.

Raphaela sat there in silence for five minutes, tears welling up in her eyes though she refused to cry.  She brought over a water bottle and offered it up as a substitute, pointing out that it would be less likely to break as it was plastic. She also requested that we share my wine glass, and I said "No!";  I did not want to risk something even more breakable than ceramic.  She took play dough out of her crafts drawer and attempted to mold a new cup.

Finally, Raphaela stood up from the lunch table, declared that she was NOT crying over this, and tucked herself  into bed, where she napped for two hours.

I believe this is the first time she realized that her actions can have irreparable consequences.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Deep Mysteries of the Universe

Today during Shabbat lunch, I dared to eat one slice from the plate of cucumbers I had cut for Raphaela, resulting in great sadness and umbrage, which we talked out ("There's nothing wrong with sharing!") and resolved.

Or so I thought.

Many hours later, while tucking in Raphaela for the evening, she asked me, "What does the soul do?" I explained that the soul lives inside our body and gives us ideas, thoughts, hopes and dreams, and defines the truest sense of being Alive.  I added that the soul is a divine spiritual spark inside us, so even when our bodies get sick and old, our soul will never die.

Then ensued a discussion about feelings and the normal day-to-day events, and I reminded Raphaela that every day can be filled with good or bad, and that the icky stuff that happens can teach us something and make us stronger.

"Like, for example, " said Raphaela, "when SOMEONE eats my cucumber it makes my soul feel very sad and hurts my feelings..."

"Are you back on this vegetable thing?" I exclaimed, and the two of us burst into laughter.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I took Raphaela  shoe shopping yesterday, in preparation for my brother's wedding in July.  I told her that we would not necessarily be buying anything today, but that I did want her feet measured to see how much she had grown, and if certain pairs of shoes were now too small on her.

Raphaela listened and then looked at me with a very practice face and said, "Mommy, no need to measure my feet. They're big."


On those occasions that Raphaela goes too far and misbehaves knowingly, I will not necessarily shout, but rather give her The Face, that expression that says that I am not happy with her actions and an apology had better be on the way, asap.

Yesterday Raphaela came up to me, eyes bulging and mouth frowning, a poor impersonation (and recognizable nonetheless) of my Angry Face.  My daughter informed me that she was not actually angry at me, but she was "practicing."  I suggested that we have a staring contest, and of course Raphaela broke first, giggling and smiling until we were both laughing out loud.


A friend of Raphaela's, a boy in her English lessons who has come over to our house many times to play, has recently started getting aggressive. The other day he scratched her arm, it looked like an animal had attacked her, and Raphaela also reported that he had come over and hit her for no reason in particular.

If this were an old fashioned New England school house, he would be dipping Raphaela's braids in the ink jar.

I have spoken to the teacher about this behavior, and I have asked Raphaela how she handled the situation at the time.  She informed me that first she said, "No, stop!" and when the boy didn't listen, she "hit back " and defended herself.  Then she told the teacher about the incident.

While I most certainly do not condone violence, my Inner Israeli Mother was thrilled that my child has finally learned that she has a right to not get hurt, and that she has a right to fight back.  Raphaela now knows that she does not have to be a wimp, a lesson that will serve her well in the long run living in Israel.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

To the Bat Phone!

Tonight, while quietly eating our dinner, my cell phone rang, and the Caller ID read, "Gan," so of course I immediately became nervous.  After assuring me that there was no reason for concern, the Head Teacher asked if Raphaela would "mind" being a last minute sub tomorrow as the Ima shel Shabbat.*  (Apparently, the designated girl will be unable to perform her duties...) 

Raphaela of course jumped at the opportunity, she would be the Ima shel Shabbat every week if the rules allowed it!  After profusely thanking her teacher, Raphaela hung up the phone, grinning from ear to ear.

Then her face slowly transformed, and Raphaela covered her eyes with her hand; I asked Raphaela if she was alright.

Raphaela:  I am trying to cry.
Mommy:  Do you NOT want to be Ima shel Shabbat?
Raphaela:  I can't wait for tomorrow, I am so happy!
Mommy:  So why do you want to cry?
Raphaela:  Tears of joy, Mommy, tears of joy.

With less than two months worth of Fridays remaining before the end of the school year, Raphaela feels lucky to be one of the Chosen.

* Ima shel Shabbat, literally translated from the Hebrew as the "Shabbat Mother," the girl who gets to wear the special puffy dress and white head covering, light the candles and hand out snacks to the rest of the class during Shabbat party at the end of each week.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Show and Tell

Yesterday when I picked up Raphaela from Gan, she was so excited, anticipating an afternoon play date.  Her little friend came over and afterwards, in the bath, Raphaela casually mentioned that she may have forgotten an important note for me, that she may have left the "I have a Secret" box in school, and that she is pretty sure it has to do with the Hebrew letter "M."

And so I learned a new childhood concept in Hebrew, what I called Show and Tell in the United States is called "I have a Secret" in Israel.

Thank goodness for modern technology, because I then texted her teacher and her English instructor, learning that we are to bring at least two items that start with the Hebrew letter "N" and keep it hidden in the special box, which happened to left at her English lessons in another part of Jerusalem.

No worries, Raphaela and I scouted around the house, coming up with four different objects:
a piece of paper ("Niyar" in Hebrew)
a pair of shoes ("Naalayim" in Hebrew)
a large candle ("Ner" in Hebrew)
and a princess doll ("Nesicha" in Hebrew)

I wanted to include a snake ("Nachash") as well, but I could not find the toy in the house.  Another possibility, "Nescafe" [that's right, instant coffee] might have amused the teachers but confounded Raphaela's classmates

This morning we first stopped by the house of her English teacher to pick up the brightly decorated Show and Tell tool box, put our secret items inside and then continued on to her Gan.  When last I left Raphaela, she was guarding that box as if there were gold bars inside.

On the way home, I began thinking about the reality of an adult who moves to Israel, without the benefit of the experience of concepts and cultural ideas that we take for granted.  For example, when I go to the supermarket, I don't know the names of all the vegetables in Hebrew, because I did not grow up with native Hebrew speakers.  There are games and slang that Raphaela uses that she has to explain to me, and she will not learn clapping games like "Miss Mary Mack" unless I teach her.  They don't tell you when you make aliyah that there will always be this gap in understanding having nothing to do with objective intelligence, but rather an alternative childhood.

Monday, May 12, 2014

This morning:

RR:  Mommy, I don't want to be a princess today.
Mom:  Really?!
RR:  Nah, just kidding!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fight The Power That Be

The school year ends officially in June, July being designated as the "11th Month."  Which means that they call it camp instead of Gan and charge 900 NIS for child care and education until two pm, and then charge another 750 NIS for child care and education from two to four pm. 

Once you get to August, it's actually Camp instead of Gan, and you pay a fortune for two weeks worth of entertainment which allows parents to work. Leaving the last two weeks of August empty, with absolute freedom/chaos for the children until classes begin again in September.

I had left a message for the woman in charge of this July camp, saying that Raphaela and I would not even be in the country for half the month, and did that entitle us to pay half rather than the full amount?


I asked if I got any sort of consideration as a single mother?


I will appeal this policy to the highest authority in the Jerusalem Municipality, not just for myself, but there must be other families who paradoxically cannot afford to pay for camp, so the adults in the house can attempt to earn a living.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

This morning while doing pre-Shabbat errands, I saw a dog randomly attack and bite a 12 year old boy on his way to school.  The boy did nothing to provoke or antagonize the animal.  Then the owner of the dog came out of the supermarket, observed the commotion and tried to take off, escape before he could be held accountable for his pet's actions;  a Jerusalem police man who had also witnessed the event prevented the man from leaving, sticking right next to this dog until the police and the ambulance arrived.

I don't know what scares me more, the idea that Raphaela - an animal lover who never hesitates to pet any cat or dog - might get bitten one day in a similar situation; or the deplorable show of cowardice and immorality shown by the owner of that dog.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Parenthood, No Pressure

This period in Israel fills a normal person with existential thoughts, from the highs and to the lows and the scary, and back again.  Starting with Holocaust Remembrance Day [Yom HaShoah], moving onto a day dedicated to the Jewish and Israeli dead [Yom HaZikaron], transitioning into Independence Day and finishing with Yom Yerushalaim, I am dizzy, and my role as a mother seems to make each of these events even more pronounced.

All day on Yom HaShoah, all I wanted to do was run over to Raphaela's Gan and hug her, and never let her go.

On Yom HaZikaron I had many conversations with Raphaela about how grateful we all are for the men and women who guard our very lives, whether or not we are aware, and I told Raphaela that if she wants to join the army some day as a soldier, I would be proud.  Scared but proud.

(A friend of mine told me that if a child wears glasses but gets laser treatment, they can still have a perfect army profile.  "Raphaela the Fighter Pilot," hmm)

On Yom HaAtzamaut, after we decorated the house and the car with Israeli flags - "festooned" would accurately describe our technique and intention - I spent 24 hours playing out parenting fantasies in my head.  When we watched the ceremony at Herzl's grave, I told Raphaela that if she wanted to take dance lessons and appear as one of the youth performers, it would make me happy.  We talked about the ceremony honoring the top tier of soldiers in all units of the army, and I pictured myself sitting in the audience someday, a beaming Mother in a field of glowing parents.  When we watched the International Bible Contest, I considered how I would encourage Raphaela with her homework as she got older; not just to inspire her to achieve academic greatness, but also to push through and excel in whatever field of study, arts or sciences, that imbues her with passion and joy.

Driving home from the traditional Independence Day BBQ, from Gush Etzion through Arab villages, I felt even more grateful for the watchful eyes of our soldiers, and made a point of thanking the two men on duty at the checkpoint.

I can't help myself, seeing me and my daughter contributing great things to this 66 year young Jewish country, the place we call Home.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Yom Hazikaron, the day set aside in Israel to remember all 23,169 Israeli soldiers who died to protect our life in this land. Toward this evening, I sat with Raphaela and told her that together we would stand in silence during the siren, before she went to bed. I explained that during the siren we should quietly thank all the brave men and women who fight to keep us safe.

"Mommy, a lot of those soldiers die, like Yoni [Netanyahu, in Entebbe].  And just like my father.  My teacher told me today that I don't have a father because he's dead."
Right before Shabbat, I walk into the living room and the floor is covered with Raphaela's shoes/slippers/Winter boots.

Mommy:  Raphaela, is there a reason you took out all your shoes and dumped them in the salon?
Raphaela:  Because I am happy!  (Starts humming the Happy song by Pharrell Williams)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Israeli Cuisine

Today in Gan, Raphaela and her classmates celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel's 66th birthday and  Independence Day.  Dressed in a beautiful white dress, my daughter had the honor of presenting their special guest, Saba Ezra, with flowers;  Saba Ezra told the children stories about his aliyah from Iraq and from the early period of settlement in the State of Israel.  (He also happens to be the father of one of Raphaela's nursery teachers.) 

On the way home, I asked Raphaela what she had eaten at the party.

RR:  We had delicious falafel!
Mom:  Did you have falafel balls inside the pita bread?
RR:  No.
Mom:  Did you have cucumbers and tomatoes inside?
RR: No.
Mom: Did you have chumus or techina?
RR:  No.
Mom:  Did you taste any pickles?
RR:  No, it's too charif [sharp, in Hebrew], I don't like it.
Mom:  So you had a falafel consisting of a plain pita pocket.
RR:  Yes, and I loved it!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Seen on the way to Gan today, with Raphaela:

A girl about nine years old is dropped off by her mother and given a lunch bag.  After the mother has left, the girl checks her sandwich and sees that it is...(dramatic music) cheese.

"Ugh," she makes a face and takes out the cheese from the bread, calling to the local street cats, who immediately surround her and inhale the unexpected snack.

Mission completed, and the girl walks into the school yard to her class.