Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sister Worship

Last night, apropos of nothing in particular, Raphaela began a five minute long monologue, while lounging in the bath tub.

"Oh how I wish, " she said with longing, "Oh how I wish I could become my cousin N.  I love her hair and I love the way she wears a pony tail. I love the clothing that she wears and I love the games that she plays.  If only I could become her instead of being Raphaela, life would be grand."

I reminded my daughter that by trading identities, she would also lose me as a mother.  And that she would get three other siblings in the bargain, with whom she would have to share her space and her toys, and well, everything.

"Don't worry Mommy," she reassured me. "You would be allowed to play with us!"

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

First Grade Prep Class

Raphaela has begun a preparation course for First Grade, given by the school itself toward the purpose of observing the girls who will enter their halls next year socially, and to get a sense of their incoming levels of things like phonics and math.  Eight sessions in total, four of which for the parents as well, to help us help our child adapt to this crucial academic transition.

I think this is a good idea, mostly because Raphaela will have explored the halls of the building with friends old and new, it will not be scary and new.  The activities they seem to have done so far, as well as the little presents they have received from the teacher in charge, have only encouraged Raphaela that First Grade will be a fun and enlightening experience.  The way my daughter bounded out to me after that first session, smiling from ear to ear, I have not seen her this jazzed in a long time.  Hearing her say with confidence, "I'm a big girl, I am a First Grade girl!", it only reaffirms my gut instinct that I made the right choice.

I truly believe that the moment Raphaela can read, the core focus of First Grade, the entire Universe will open up to her.

The Gan psychologist called me this morning, three months after I had put in a request to have an official Ministry of Education assessment done vis a vis First Grade.  When I told her that that ship had sailed, that train had left the station,  etc. she seemed puzzled and disappointed. I reminded her that we only had until April to make the final decision, and she should have done this assessment ages ago, if she really meant to help.  The psychologist's response? "Well, I was busy..."

This morning Raphaela reminded me, without my saying a word, that she had another prep class this afternoon, and that we have to bring her workbook.  She is remembering her so-called homework on her own initiative, that is a very good sign in my book.

Post-script:  The teacher of Raphaela's Nature Class, a woman with years of experience in the Israeli school system, has severe objections to this preparatory class, and to the pressure in general on children at an early age, in First Grade.  She made the analogy of taking a beautiful butterfly and crushing it in your fist, trying to control and corral the natural creative tendencies of Raphaela and kids like her.  I pray to G-d she is wrong in this case, I am comfortable and happy with my choice of educational institutions. 

I would hate to think that I am crushing Raphaela's spirit and potential.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Grandparents Party

The party in which I brought down the average age in the room significantly.  (Two other children besides Raphaela had non-grandparents sitting in the audience.)

The party in which I actually did feel out of place, and a bit resentful and jealous, feeling like both Raphaela and I are seriously missing the benefits of having grandparents near by. (But not enough to consider moving back to the United States.)

The party in which the following song was sung in Hebrew:  "A family is a mother and father, a grandmother and grandfather, sisters and brothers that fill the house.  Nothing less will do." (Not joking, I felt like I was attending a kindergarten in Stepford.)

The party in which the only saving grace was the bouquet of flowers Raphaela presented to me at the end of the event.  (At least I got some appreciation for doing the job of a mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, aunt and uncle, sister and brother, all wrapped in one tired package.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Right and Privilege

Today I had the honor of voting in an Israeli national election, an exceptional right and privilege to be able to participate in a Parliamentary Democracy; to be a Jew actively engaged in choosing a government in a country that is mine.  No matter what the results, I will never take that for granted.

Then, it being yet another school vacation day, Raphaela and I met our cousins at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, where we voted for a second time.  My daughter chose the Turtle Party ("Affordable housing for all") while I opted for the Lion Party ("Security and Leadership"). Perhaps the most realistic of all the Zoo Party options was the Lemur Party, which encouraged people to "get out of the trees" and face the reality of the complicated Middle East.

The leisurely pace of our day, the pleasure of not needing to be anywhere for anything in particular; it is perhaps the closest I have come in the 18 years I have lived here of experiencing the Israeli version of a true American Sunday.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Our First Diorama

In anticipation of the Grandparents Party/Torah Party this Friday, the children were asked to choose one of their favorite stories and create a diorama, to be displayed and admired at a table at the event.

In what will be (I can only assume) the first of many in her academic career, I present Raphaela's rendition of Jacob's Dream.  While I acted as the consultant on the project, I can honestly state that Raphaela did the majority of creative expression and heavy lifting;  no helicopter parenting for me, something which is frankly easier to achieve here in Israel, where the young are given more responsibility and independence than in the United States.

This diorama is sponsored by a great box we got from Purim Mishloach Manot, plastaline molding clay, and Playmobil toys.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

At the Sports Expo this afternoon, picking up the t-shirt and bib and instructions for the Jerusalem Marathon on Friday.  Every vendor is giving out stuff, and Raphaela walked away with quite a haul, including a balloon, sticker, bracelet and sweatband.

On the way to the car, Raphaela, skipping and smiling, said to me, "Mommy, I am happy all over my body because I got so many presents."

"Wow," I said, "why do you think you got all those gifts?  It's like a birthday party!"
"Because," Raphaela answered, "everyone loves me!"
I kissed Raphaela on the head and said, "Everyone loves you, but especially your Mommy."
"Oh yes," she replied, "my Mommy loves me best of all."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

At the beginning of the school year, I took great pains to explain to the Kindergarten teacher regarding my status as a single mother by choice IE no father in the picture at all, and the fact that all of our relatives live in America.  I asked her to keep these immutable facts in mind when planning family-oriented events.

At Raphaela's birthday party in Gan, along with three other children, the teacher introduced an activity of just mothers and then, just fathers.  The only thing that saved us and every other person in the room from extreme awkwardness was the presence of my brother, who stood in as a father-figure for that particular exercise.

Mildly annoying to me, and I was glad that later in the year, her class largely ignored the celebration of Israeli "Family Day," thus avoiding the need to explain myself, again.

Today I received an invitation for the big party of the year,  The Grandparents Party.  The invitation stated that the honored guests (the grandparents) would arrive at 11:30 am, and that we, parents of the children of the class,  were to surprise the grandparents with a large bouquet of flowers a half hour later.

More than mildly annoying, and I wrote to the teacher, asking what she planned to do for all the kids, not just my daughter, who for reasons geographical or otherwise (very elderly, illness etc) could not attend.  She replied that in cases like that, parents could attend, or we could send emissaries in our name, such as random grown-up friends of the family.

"Wonderful," I wrote back, and continued, "So if I am both parent and grandparent, when should I come?  Should a bring a bouquet of flowers, which I will then present to myself?"

No response yet from Raphaela's teacher.

Verging on actually annoyed and angry at this point, and wondering if I should keep Raphaela home from school that day and make it a Mommy and me beach day.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Is it almost over? Anyone want candy? Will the blue dye destroy my hair?

Yes, I am costumed as the Doctor Who TARDIS; my hair, lips and nails are blue and yes, that is a Sonic Screwdriver I am holding in my hand.  Great holiday.

When Raphaela saw the Mishloach Manot [Gifts of food, with an 105% sugar content and every variation of candy one can imagine]  from her class mates, she literally cried out of joy.  Her, along with the dentists across Israel, who will reap the benefits of this particular tradition in the days and weeks to come.

I would be remiss if I did not relay this story which perhaps encapsulates the truest story of Purim, and that is sacrifice and love for others.  On the way to our family Purim feast today, the last in the longest series of holiday events ever, we passed by a synagogue near our house.  Along the entire sidewalk stood various men and woman asking for charity, one of the four major commandments of the holiday. (The fifth being, Thou shalt get drunk.)

Carrying only the bare minimum, I felt terrible that I had not brought my wallet with me, and apologized profusely.  One of the women standing there said, "My children do not have Mishloach Monaot this year." Without hesitation, Raphaela reached into the bag she was carrying, which contained a selection of some of her favorite candy gifts of the day.  She pulled out a large package of cookies, handed it to the woman and said, "We have so much junk food at home, more than we need. Now your children can be happy too."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mardi Gras Oops Purim 2015

In the Israeli Kindergarten school system, Purim begins two weeks before the actual holiday, with Hat Day, Pajamas Day, King and Queens Day, Inside Out Day etc.  The last day of real school, they have Costume Day, in which children all over the country can be seen walking through the streets in festive dress of sorts, culminating in the kids being sent home earlier than usual because they are too hopped up on sugar to be manageable to their teachers.
Then begins vacation, a three day affair which includes, you guessed it, more costumes.  The only real outfit that we bought this year was the bumble bee, which Raphaela wore on Costume Day.  The other costumes were gifts from others, combined with recyclable parts from previous years.  Every year we have a custom of going to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo in costume, and luckily I found a stash of Purim accessories, so my daughter will not Heaven Forbid wear a repeat costume. 
It's like we are on a cruise ship, where you change outfits for every activity and every meal.
Not including of course the children's party and reading of the Story of Esther at the synagogue tomorrow night, or the feast at family friends on Friday.
As well, I have worn costume hats and make-up for the past two weeks, because seeing this holiday through the joy and wonderment of a little girl's eyes makes it all worth while.  For the zoo, at my daughter's request, I will be a monarch butterfly, and for the feast on Friday, I will transform into the Tardis (Doctor Who), complete with temporary blue hair dye.
Because you only as young as you feel inside, and I plan on aging well.
Post-script: I will now share my most precious Purim secret IE how to get quality costumes for almost no money.  Every year, the day after Halloween in the States, I go online with Raphaela to several good sites, and she picks out her preferred outfit for Purim. I ship it to my parents in Boston, and then they have three to four months to get it to me, either by sending it as a package or with friends who are visiting Israel. I pay about $10 a year, yesterday a friend told me that she paid $1 on a site, the day after Halloween.