Monday, August 31, 2015

Final Countdown to First Grade

Last night, Raphaela and I went to Evelyna to meet her teachers and her classmates, making this transition all the more real. I was pleased with her Head Teacher (a woman who has a stellar reputation) and the fact that Raphaela knows 7/31 girls in her class,  from her previous years in Gan and from her English sessions.

Raphaela came home jazzed and motivated, and woke up at five am this morning because she wanted to "watch the sun rise."

[Trumpets and fanfare]  Today is officially Raphaela Day, a day during which I will not work, a day of preparation and celebration toward First Grade.

We started with a special breakfast at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens of pancakes and French toast with all the fixins, followed by the Farewell Tour of the Dinosaurs who have lived there all summer.  At the cafĂ©, I asked them privately to make Raphaela's breakfast "festive" and they slightly misunderstood;  they brought out her plate with a candle and started singing "Happy Birthday."

On the way home, we noticed that a new pet store had very recently replaced the video store on Herzog Street.  Animal lovers that we are, we had to check out this new business, and it turned into a full blown petting zoo experience.  The green parrot named Mitzi sat on our hand; we pet the rabbits; and observed the gerbil with her new babies,  these small red things the size of Bamba.  Then Raphaela and I had our intermittent discussion about when our 13 year old cat Harry might die, where we might get a new kitten and what kind of kitten toys we might buy for him/her.

Onto home, where we spent about 20 minutes organizing her backpack and school supplies, and covering her school workbooks with plastic covers.  We spent about an hour switching over her clothing dresser to school mode, adding in her uniform and weeding out clothing to be given to charity.  On the one hand, I am relieved that the routine of dressing in the morning has been infinitely simplified; on the other hand, she has some beautiful dresses and shirts that may never be worn again.

Then, almost inexplicably, my mind switched to Spring Cleaning mania.  Almost every drawer in the house was opened and emptied, the pile of charity donations grew, as well as several garbage runs.  I discovered in the process that I am more of a pack rat than I remembered, finding way many more bags, pillows, bathrobes and baseball caps than a normal human needs.

Though we had planned to go the pool this afternoon, instead we took a walk locally, running various small errands.  With everything packed and ready to go, other than her lunch which I will make in the morning, Raphaela eagerly took her bath and went to sleep on time.

Every time she said, "I am so excited for tomorrow," I simply smiled.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Idiot Box Baby Sitter and School Jitters

When I was pregnant, I swore that I would never use the television as a baby sitter, that only irresponsible and lazy parents stuck their kid in front of the Boob Tube instead of investing in one-on-one time with their children.

Most rules are made to be broken, and until now (in Raphaela's almost six years) I have used this tool sparingly.  That is until this past Great Summer Vacation.

Often, when we got back from the pool and we were both exhausted, it was easier to give her a snack and let her watch educational videos.  Worse, in the past week our baby sitter has canceled at the last minute several times on days when I needed her to keep Raphaela entertained while I worked with patients. (I know, time to get a new sitter.)

Given the ten minutes warning, I could not find a replacement, and so the Idiot Box did the job of keeping her sedated while I worked.  This morning, on the last day that the sitter was supposed to arrive, she canceled again.  I tried to arrange some version of a play date, but that failed.

So Raphaela came with me to my business meeting.  (Yup, that's real professional...)  And Raphaela stayed home in front of the television while I worked, with only minor interruptions to change the DVD or feed her.  (Feeling so professional and non-distracted now...)

To add to all this stress, I seem to be much more excited and nervous about First Grade than Raphaela.  I am manifesting all my classic signs of stress, the same ones that appeared in the past whenever I had a major exam (SATs, Chiropractic boards, pregnancy ultrasounds). I tossed and turned all last night, waking up every few hours. I have lost my appetite because of stomach cramps.  I have less serenity and more impatience running through me, not great for taking care of my daughter or my clients.

And I have shifted into major list-making mode.

It is times like this when I wish I had a spouse, or siblings, or parents with whom I could share this momentous occasion, someone who could perform some of the errands that need doing, someone who could tell me that it will all work out in the end.

Or at least a responsible adult who could watch Raphaela while I worked.  But as I have learned, even when others say they will help lessen my burden as a single parent, no matter how good their intentions, I am alone in the good, the bad and the ugly.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Too Much Fun Spoils the Broth

Eight more days until First Grade.  I know that because Raphaela has become so enthusiastic about the idea of Evelyna that she insisted we make up a chart for the rest of vacation, counting down the hours and minutes until this event.

I thought that it might be nice to spend some fun quality time with my daughter during these last days of Summer vacation.  I thought it might be nice to give her a good time, a day of all fun and no pressure.

So today we ventured to the Cinema City in Jerusalem, a first for both of us.  We ate pizza for lunch, walked around the mall section a little, and then bought tickets for the movie, "Inside Out." At the theater, we bought popcorn, because that's what you eat during a movie.

Bonus, they happened to be showing our movie in the VIP theater, which meant that we had luxurious padded seats, with full tray tables, adjustable headrests and adjustable foot rests.  Good thing too, because at the climax of the movie when it was at its most sad and scary, Raphaela started crying and needed to sit on my lap until the end of the show.

Afterwards she declined another snack food run, preferring instead to go to the bouncy castle amusement park they have on site.  Great, I thought, she will play here while I sit on a cool, air-conditioned bench, and when we get home she will be invigorated and exhausted.

Five minutes later, after I had just handed over the money for the park, Raphaela proclaimed that she had "had enough" and that she was ready to go home.  I patiently explained that not only was it a waste of money, but it would also be much more boring at home where there were, in fact, no bouncy castles.  I expressed my extreme displeasure and disappointment that she was acting so spoiled and fickle.

Whereupon she sat at the corner and cried.  After five minutes of crying I took her home, because all the fun had been sapped out of the experience, and explained that she would have to sit quietly and think about why I was both sad and angry.  "Just because we are going home does not mean I am a happy Mommy." A punishment was promised.

Almost immediately upon arriving home, she banished herself to her bedroom and fell asleep, thus ruining the whole evening schedule by taking a nap at four in the afternoon.

Next time we are in a place that provides too much temptation, I will think twice before I say "Yes," no matter how persuasive her enthusiasm.

As well, I join the rest of the parents who are counting down the days until we all return to the routine of school.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Looming on the Horizon

This morning as Raphaela was getting ready for her last day of camp, she rejected every outfit that I suggested.  With tears welling in her eyes, she looked at me and asked, "Don't you want me to feel pretty?"

It made me so grateful that she has some version of a uniform for First Grade.

Which starts in less than two weeks.

When Raphaela was a baby, I would take her out for walks every day, and inevitably, random elderly grandmothers would stop me on the street.  The first would say, in an accusatory tone, "How can you dress your baby this way? Can't you see she is too hot? Take off that hat." Which I would do, because what did I know as a first-time mother.  Several meters later, another random elderly grandmother would stop me in the street and shout in an equally accusatory tone, "How can you dress your baby without a hat on a day like today? Can't you see she is getting cold?"

It amazed and frustrated me that here I was, an intelligent woman with three degrees, able to help people every day as a Doctor and run my own business, and yet I did not know how to dress my own child. I felt stupid.

As First Grade becomes more and more of a reality, I find myself revisiting those feelings of ignorance and frustration.  I don't know what kind of meal to pack for her, or if she will eat them at all.  I don't know when she has school vacation and when her afternoon program starts.  I pray that we do not have tempestuous struggles over homework.

All  I want to do is help Raphaela experience the easiest and most successful transition to this new adventure.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Giant Steps

I offer you these small moment of giant steps in Raphaela's journey:

We had a serious conversation yesterday about Superman, my six year old could not understand how simply putting on a pair of glasses made him unrecognizable to those who know him and work with him.

This morning, listening to the radio alarm, Raphaela got confused because they were singing a song about "rice cakes." (First time in her long life that she will get the words wrong to rock music.)

On the way to camp, we got stuck driving behind a learning driver, predictably weaving and terribly slow.  While I vented my frustration with Jerusalem driving, Raphaela said to me, "Mommy, there are learning drivers EVERYWHERE. Get over it."

Her camp is offering a fun option of a camping night sleep-over the last night of camp.  I gave Raphaela the details and she said, "I'm not ready for that yet.  I would miss you too much."  (When I was a life guard at a Jewish day camp in Boston, I always volunteered to be the extra staff person on the sleep overs; there is nothing more amazing than swimming in the lake at the crack of dawn.)

Speaking of swimming at camp, yesterday afternoon when we were trying to relax and escape the insufferable heat wave, Raphaela casually mentioned that she may have learned how to swim and that she had gone alone into the deep end of the pool by herself, for the first time.  I could not have been more excited and proud.

Friday, August 14, 2015

This morning, while doing local errands:

"Mommy, do you know why I am happy?  Because I'm with you."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Endings and Beginnings

When Raphaela graduated from Kindergarten in June, I felt proud and pleased;  for a mother who cries at certain commercials on television, I did not feel anxious or sad or overly emotional.  Both Raphaela and I were ready for the Nursery/Gan experience to come to a close, eager for the next chapter.

Today I feel differently however.  Today is the last day that Raphaela will spend with our English tutor, with whom she has learned for the last three years.  On this last day of English camp, I am saying good bye to something more personal, akin to extended family.  I appreciate this woman for the energy she has invested in this class and these children, and for the warmth and love she has given Raphaela over the years.

She told me that she is so proud of how Raphaela has grown intellectually and socially, and that when she looks at my daughter she sees a beautiful child who is ready for First Grade.

Without family in the country or a spouse, that kind of feedback and support means more to me than I could have ever imagined.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

We're all Human

Yesterday Raphaela and I spent three hours at the Pediatric Ophthalmology Unit at Hadassah Hospital,  getting her vision reassessed.  Raphaela was hoping that after the last year of being really good and wearing her glasses all the time, the doctor would tell us that at the very least her eyes had improved, and ideally, giving us a date when she would no longer need her glasses at all.

Instead, we got a lovely pep talk, "Stability is a Good Thing!"  And yes, while I am grateful that her astigmatism has not gotten worse in the last year, both of us were admittedly a little disappointed.

I knew that her eyes would be sensitive after all the tests and the dreaded eye drops, so I had brought sunglasses for Raphaela to wear, on our walk back to the parking lot and to the car.  Unfortunately I brought the wrong pair, they were mine actually, and they kept slipping off Raphaela's face.

I apologized and said, "Mommy made a mistake, I'm sorry."

A Israeli woman in her 40's, sitting near us during this exchange, immediately added her (unsolicited) opinion:  "Oh no, a Mommy is not allowed to make mistakes. Parents are never wrong!""

I replied, mostly for myself and so Raphaela would hear, "That was exactly my point.  People, especially parents, are still human beings, and we are not perfect.  I think it is important for a child to know that even their mother or father can be wrong on occasion, and that it is always appropriate to acknowledge the other and apologize."

Saturday, August 8, 2015

We are Family

Two weeks ago, a friend of mine had a baby boy.  Her son is in the same Gan class, and so Raphaela attended her first Brit Milah [circumcism].  She paid little attention to the actual event, she loved the fact that they had mini pizzas for the kids.

More than anything else,  Raphaela kept expressing awe at the fact that her friend had such a large and festive family, and that they all lived in the same country and could play with each other whenever they wanted.

Earlier this week, after bath time, Raphaela decided that she missed my parents, and that she needed to Skype them right away, otherwise she wouldn't be able to fall asleep.

This past Shabbat, cousins of ours from New York were visiting Israel and staying near by, and we got a chance to hang out with them and catch up on all the family stories from the United States.  Raphaela played with the children her age, and sucked in all the attention and hugs from doting adults.  As we walked home, Raphaela burst into tears, saying that it "wasn't fair" that our family lives so far away, that people she loves come and then leave.  That she wants to live in Israel, but she also wants all her family to move in with us, so she can have a "major sleep over."

I told Raphaela that she was allowed to be sad, she was allowed to miss her family, and that her desire to have family close by is a reasonable and beautiful request.  Now I have to find some way to fill that gap for her, so she continues to feel loved without the fear of abandonment.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Chapter Two: Abandoned Children

Every Summer in Israel, the radio gets flooded with ads reminding parents how "easy" it is to forget a child in the car, and how quickly a child suffocates to death in extreme heat.  The ads then give parents helpful pointers as to how to avoid the inevitable stories of tragedy and loss and recrimination.

Every Summer, every time I hear one of these ads, I wonder to myself how a parent could forget one of their children, even in the bustle of going to the beach or unloading groceries etc.

Now these stories have an added element:  it was reported in this morning's paper that a two year old boy was found abandoned in a park in Netanya.  He had apparently been there alone for over 12 hours, when he was discovered in the later hours of the evening by a teenager and her mother, who immediately called the police and social services.  The boy seemed well cared-for, except of course for being abandoned by his family.

The news was unclear as to how this boy got to the park in the first place, and who was responsible for this horrific event.  We are all asking the obvious questions like, "How did his parents not realize he had been missing for a whole day?" "Why was this boy not reported missing by someone in his family?" "Should these parents be prosecuted for neglect, at the very least?"

When babies fry to death in a car (please excuse the horrifically realistic language), the press always says, "These parents have suffered enough, losing their child, they should not be prosecuted or punished further. They will have to live with the guilt the rest of their lives."  So what do you say to parents who apparently left their two year old in a park, alone, far away from their home, and forgot him?

How does a parent forget a child?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Mommy, would you please consider not wearing pants today to work?  I would suggest a beautiful dress, like mine or Elsa's.  Or a skirt with a top, that could work too.  If you really have to wear pants for your work, well...sigh."

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Vacation and Politics in Israel

Since we are not taking any major vacation trips this summer, I had decided that I would take off certain random days of work so that Raphaela and I could do local day trips, have bits of vacation inside a regular work week.  I also felt it was important to spend time with Raphaela before she starts First Grade in the fall, to make her feel special.

I had decided that tomorrow would be one of those days, a hike/exploration of the Herodian archaeological site followed by an afternoon of fun by the pool with our adopted family in Tekoa. [Near Herodian, very much over the Green Line, a stressful car ride on a regular day]

First came the heat wave, over a week of temperatures throughout the country in the mid to upper 30 degrees Celsius.  Not a time to be out in the sun and hiking the top of a mountain, no matter how interesting and historical it might be.

Then came the promise of violence, from Jews and Arabs alike, following the burning death of an Arab baby, one day after a deranged Ultra-Orthodox man stabbed six people at the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade.  So I have to ask myself, given that the road to Herodian and Tekoa runs through several Arab villages, is it actually safe or smart to drive there?  Am I putting my life and that of my daughter in danger, or am I over-reacting to the news and the politics and the threats of Armageddon?

I may be more aware than some, since I was almost killed by a Palestinian sniper during the Second Intifada, in 2001.