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.


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.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

In honor of the summer, I had bought a set of water guns for Raphaela and myself.  Yesterday as we doused each other, Raphaela asked me, "Does this mean that we did the ALS ice bucket challenge?"


Being serious for a moment, ALS (Lou Gherigs)  is a terrible disease, from which my uncle Jeshua Leeder Z"L died several years ago.  At the start of all this viral video insanity, my brother was one of the first to do the ice bucket challenge and donate $100 to the cause, for the right reasons, and I applaud him.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Our First Siren

Because you never forget your first time.

Last night I hired our favorite baby sitter to come over, so I could meet a friend for dinner and celebrate my birthday, belatedly.  Unusual for Raphaela, she grabbed at my leg and begged me not to leave her, and I could hear her crying even as I drove away from the building.

As a joke during the meal, I speculated that perhaps my daughter is spiritually connected to the Universe, that she knows something we don't know and that we should expect terror attacks and bombing in Jerusalem again.  Then I considered calling the sitter and explain to her vis a vis the location of our bomb shelter, because I didn't want Raphaela to feel that her care-taker IE NOT Mommy could not handle the stress of the situation.

I came home around ten pm, sent the sitter home, stripped down to almost nothing because of the sticky humidity of Jerusalem, and crawled into bed.  At 11:45 pm, the sound of  sirens filled the streets of Jerusalem and in fact most of the country, and it was the first time that I and Raphaela has been in Israel for such an event.

Mostly naked, I searched frantically for some version of a shirt, grabbed Raphaela and a set of keys, and together in pajamas and shoe-less we ran downstairs to the bomb shelter, leaving our cat Harry upstairs crying and having to fend for himself.  For ten minutes all the neighbors ignored the obvious, like the Crazy Old Lady wearing a great pair of blue silk pajamas;  a French man in his 20's wearing just a towel; me without pants etc.  Much of the laughter and conversation took place in French, and then we all trudged back upstairs, each to our own houses.

I immediately pulled out my iPhone to reactivate the Red Alert app, and emailed my family to let them know that the bombing passed without incident.

Raphaela, still half groggy, made some incoherent statements about her "brain working," and then slept the rest of the night in my bed, never letting go of my arm for even an instant.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Experiments in Religion

This past Shabbat, as we were walking home from the park, we passed by several of Raphaela's friends from Gan (and their families), returning from synagogue.  Raphaela asked me if synagogue was "fun," and I replied that I supposed if we went to the one down the street from our house, she might bump into a few of her friends there, and that it might then become fun, at least for her.

Raphaela immediately perked up and begged that we make the effort to go to that synagogue this coming Saturday, so she could play with her friends.

How can I deny the request? I can't, and it leaves me feeling terribly conflicted.

This particular synagogue and community center has never shown any particular kindness to me, both when I was single and when I became a single mother.  Quite the contrary, almost every time I have walked in there I have been told that "people are talking" and that they don't know quite what to do with me.  The women's section - though air conditioned, a plus - is small and only accessible after about 60 steps, with an occluded view of the spacious and beautiful men's section.  This is a traditional Orthodox minyan*, meaning that women can show up and hum along to the tune, but count for nothing and participate in nothing; other than a minority group of families with young children, most of the members boast an average age of 70 and abhor change.

Not the place for me.  I have already admitted out loud that if we lived in other areas of Jerusalem, the reception would be warmer and more accepting, but we are not moving house in the near future.

So I guess I must suck it up, get us both dolled up and appropriately attired, acceptable for this group of worshipers.  I get consolation from the fact that Raphaela and her friends are only five years old, and they don't judge.

* minyan = the Hebrew term for a group of ten men who then constitute the Orthodox prayer party

Sunday, August 17, 2014

PT in the Park

After our meeting with the physical therapist last week, I was encouraged to play more 'boy' games with Raphaela, like basketball and soccer; the point of the activity would be to help her hand eye coordination in ball-related sports and in life.

I grew up being told that I was the "Smart One" in the family.  Which translated to:  "Don't bother getting all dressed up, because you are not the 'Pretty One,' and don't bother trying out for team sports, because you are not the strong 'Athletic One,' and don't bother being an extrovert, because you are not all that funny or entertaining."

As both mother and father at the moment, I cannot afford to give up on aspects of Raphaela's development, simply because it is not my favorite activity.  So yesterday I took my daughter to the Nayot park near our house, one which seems to have been designed to train Israeli children from the earliest age for army service.

We climbed up the netting, hung from the gymnastics bar, walked the balance beam forwards and backwards, maneuvered around the maze of ladders and landings to get to the highest slide in the whole structure.

Then I commandeered two conveniently placed large rocks as the goal for our soccer game, and I truly noted that the more we played, the stronger Raphaela's kicks and her confidence with the ball.  (Now we have to work on our blocking...)  Afterwards Raphaela chose to practice dribbling the ball, while I rested on our picnic blanket.

After two hours of all that running and playing in the sun, I must admit that I felt invigorated by the activity, as well as marveling at the almost immediate change in Raphaela's approach and demeanor.  We must play 'boy games' more often, as long as it is followed by a wonderful deep Shabbat nap.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From the Mouth of the Young Ones

Dropping off Raphaela at  Nature Camp today, I stood there with one of her closest friends (M) and her mother, and one of their counselors.

M:  I'm four and a half.
RR:  I'm also four and a half.
RR's Mom:  Well, actually, soon you will both be five.
Counselor:  Well soon I will be 24!
M,RR:  Wow!
M's mother:  And I just turned 34.
M, RR:  That's a lot!
RR's Mom:  (silent, and hoping no one will notice)
RR:  How old are you Mommy?
RR's Mom:  I just turned 46.
M:  Oh, I'm sorry, but you're going to die soon.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The HMO Shuffle

Several years ago I sought out specific guidance on parenting issues, I was feeling quite overwhelmed as a single mother.  I turned to the designated counselors within my HMO;  month after month of meetings and observations of myself, my parenting style and my interactions with Raphaela, they refused to help me.  No explanations, they quite simply abandoned me.

I got over the rejection, and yet to this day I fail to understand why I was not deserving of their assistance.

This past year in Gan, I had several dealings with Raphaela's stubbornness and performance anxiety:  the refusal to participate in swimming lessons, the fear of the plays and parties which all the parents attended, the willingness to dance only when no one is watching and throwing a massive fit when we tried a ballet class, etc. I am also aware of certain basic speech issues which I would like to be corrected before Raphaela enters first grade:  she has inconsistency issues with the letters "R" and "Sh", resulting in a barely noticeable lisp.

Many of my friends with older children told me that the Israeli HMO will not deal with these "common" problems until a child turns seven years old, but I - as a parent and as a Doctor - see no reason to wait, especially because Raphaela is also bilingual.

Thus started the run-around.  First I had to fill out a complete developmental form, as well as asking her Gan teacher to provide her assessment, and our GP to give us a formal prescription for the Childhood Developmental Center.

Then you send in the forms and wait for the center to call you, which they did two months later, recommending that a Physical Therapist check Raphaela for gross motor functions.  Huh?

They also requested a hearing test, something that makes slightly more sense given the context.

And of course, it takes at least one month before there is an opening for an appointment, for anything, and many health professionals are currently on summer break.

So we did the hearing test, the results were inconclusive, and the next appointment takes place at the end of the month.  This morning the PT watched as Raphaela ran and jumped and climbed and attempted to play basketball, and came to the conclusion that there is a strong emotional component present, and that I should attend several sessions with a parenting advisor/therapist. Together we can compile a list of strategies when Raphaela's fear overcomes her ability.

The physical therapist also recommended that I play more ball with Raphaela, not one of my favorite sports or past-times, I must admit.  If she had a father in the house, he would play with her, and then she would be able to dribble a ball and catch it better, right?  (One more thing to add to the guilt list...)

When I asked why I hadn't yet heard from the speech therapist to arrange testing and sessions, the PT laughed and said, "We don't handle that at all, you need to go to an entirely different department and start over with them."

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Nature Camp, Week One

Here at Nature Camp, in the Jerusalem Museum of Natural History, we take the safety and security of our children very seriously!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

This morning, while brushing Raphaela's hair and attempting a decent braid.

Raphaela:  I miss America.
Mom:  What do you miss about America?
Raphaela:  I miss the warm summer rains.

Cease Fire

Yesterday I had a belated birthday lunch with one of my oldest friends from college, a woman who now lives in Efrat, Israel.  (Yes, over the Green Line, 20 minutes away from my house, by car.)  We were discussing the collective stress of the last month of war on this country, and the particular agony to parents;  especially those whose sons or daughters were called up to serve in the South and in Aza.

My friend, originally American, has a 19-year old daughter currently serving in the National Service Program of the army,  and she put much of this violence into a new perspective, at least for me.  She said, "Every one of those young men who go into Aza and get killed, or wounded physically and emotionally, that is one less potential boyfriend or husband for my daughter."

Because 64 Israeli soldiers died in the last month and they will never come home to their families.  And countless numbers rest in hospitals across the country, even if they recover physically they have been irreparably scarred by the war and the bloodshed.

It is quiet, today, for now, though I in no way trust Hamas, Hezbollah, and the other random terrorist groups and anti-Semitic nations who actively plan for the day that Israel will be wiped off the map, and for all Jews to be wiped off the planet.

Raphaela has told me that she plans on serving in the army when she turns 18, and will be proud to do so. I told her that we have another 13 years to think about this, and privately I pray that there will be no need for my daughter and her generation to continue to fight for our daily safety and existence, in a world that seems to have gone mad.

Today former President Jimmy Carter appealed to the United States and the international community to recognize Hamas as a valid political partner.  Like I said, a world gone mad.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Pulling Together

This morning, Raphaela and I found ourselves at our local bakery, doing the usual errands for Shabbat.  On the way home, I noticed a large group of policemen and Israeli soldiers clustered on the sidewalk.

They were guarding the house of a family that had lost their eldest son in battle three days ago.

I didn't recognize the family name, and  spontaneously decided that these families who are sacrificing their children for the sake of the country, they need to know that we appreciate them and feel their loss.  I also thought it would be an excellent learning experience for Raphaela,  a chance to feel the entire Jewish nation pulling together to support each other.

We came in quietly and sat down in the back.  Various VIP visitors came and went with their security entourage and their television crews:  the Mayor of Jerusalem, the Chief of Police, the Speaker of the Knesset, etc.  I told Raphaela that all of us here, just by sitting here and filling chairs, were showing love for these families, and helping them through a very difficult time.

At a certain point, Raphaela asked if she could speak to the parents of the boy, Barkai Shor Z"L, and I went up with her.  My daughter didn't plan quite what to say, so she offered up what she does best IE unconditional warmth and a solid hug, to both the mourning mother and father.

I couldn't have been more proud of her, and then I thanked the parents for the their bravery and the 'gift' of their son.