Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Random Day on Vacation in Jerusalem

On the bus this morning, to get Raphaela's new eye glasses, from the center of town

"Mommy, when you were pregnant, did you wish for a boy or a girl baby?"
"Actually I wanted a girl."
"Because I think that girls have more options:  they can be strong and compassionate.  They can be an astronaut or a ballet dancer, without getting judged by society."
"And look at that Mommy, you got your wish, G-d gave you a girl." [Pause for dramatic effect] "Look who is sitting next to you!" [Another pause] "And I am funny too."


On the way back from town, I suggested that instead of taking the bus home, we should walk, because I felt the need to move, and the swerving of the busses on Jerusalem roads make me nauseous.  I assured Raphaela that it would be easy, because it was downhill all the way home.

We played the Jewish version of "punch buggy," calling out Succot as passed them.

Then we happened to pass by the President's House, and there happened to be a Succot Open House.  Since we didn't have firm vacation plans until the afternoon, we went in and toured the grounds, made a decoration for the President's Succah, drank blue slushies and hung out on his extensive lawn. 

To top it all off, Raphaela got to shake President Ruby Rivlin's hand.

The best times happen when you are not planning or paying attention.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Big Question

"Mommy, you know everything, don't you?"
"No, I don't!"
"Well, what don't you know?"
[Pause, while I decide whether to go into the psychological aspect of growth and change, that I could do better in personal relationships or in setting priorities in my life, or in aiming higher and dreaming bigger.]
"Well, I have no idea how to diagnose or repair problems in the car. I always wanted to learn that."
"What else don't you know?"
[Pause, deciding whether to make this a deep moment in Raphaela's life.]
"I can cook well, but I am not skilled at baking.  Cookies and cakes and things like that, they just don't turn out right."
[Opportunity missed.]

Monday, September 28, 2015

Super Blood Moon Eclipse

This morning, at five am, I woke Raphaela and we went outside for an unobstructed view of the Super Blood Moon Eclipse, an astronomical event that will only repeat in the year 2033.  Together we watched the moon transition from full and bright to obscured and grey, with only the faintest hint of light somewhere in the sky.

Succot is one of my favorite of Jewish holidays, because it opens the possibilities of reconnecting with family and friends, and with nature.  Raphaela and I certainly had quality time as we watched the eclipse, and I enjoyed her inquisitive mind as we shivered slightly in the chill of early morning Jerusalem air.

We also learned something new and vaguely alarming about wild life in Jerusalem:  a large jackal walked around the streets in our area, hunting several street cats as we watched,  and completely unafraid of our human presence.

On a completely different note, who thinks that "Super Blood Moon Eclipse" would be a fabulous title for a terrible science fiction movie?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Oh Unto Us a Child is Born

Happy sixth birthday my beautiful girl.  May you be blessed in all that you are, may you always experience health and joy and love, and I can't wait to see how you change the world.

Let the festivities begin with her Hebrew birthday, continuing into next week with her English birthday; the more celebration of life and its wonderment, the better.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids

When I was in the supermarket this week, I was hungry.  Never go food shopping when you are hungry. 

As a result, I brought home a sugar cereal instead of the healthier option of corn flakes.  Just looking at the box brought back all sorts of lovely childhood memories, as well as memories of Sunday morning breakfasts in college, one of the best periods in my life.

When I offered it to Raphaela this morning, her eyes went wide, her smile went even wider, and she said, "I must have been very good to deserve this!"

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Good Vibrations

This morning while walking to school, a middle-aged Russian woman gave Raphaela and me a huge smile.  She proceeded to come over to Raphaela and hug her and kiss her on the head, exclaiming what a grown-up beautiful girl she is, and blessing her for the new year.

I have no idea who this woman is, but thank you. (I hasten to add that this would only happen in Israel.)

Later in the morning while I was doing local errands before work, a random elderly gentleman asked me why my "little girl" wasn't with me.  I explained that she had started first grade and was in fact in school.  "Oh my," exclaimed the man, "I remember her when she was just a baby!" And he too proceeded to heap wonderful blessings upon my daughter.

Raphaela has her Hebrew birthday on Sunday, and she has been announcing it to the world.  Apparently the Universe is joining the celebrations, and sending all these angels to add to joy of the day and the event.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Princess Charlotte and the Duchess

In May, when Princess Charlotte was born to Kate Middleton, Raphaela insisted upon writing her a letter and drawing her a picture.  Raphaela dictated to me, "Mazal tov! I hope that George and Charlotte will play nicely together."

I immediately mailed it out, and actually did not expect any sort of response;  I assumed that the Duchess of Cambridge would be receiving letters and  good wishes from all over the globe, and would not bother to respond to each individually.

I was wrong, and today Raphaela received a letter from the Duchess (her personal secretary) along with a photo of the happy family after Princess Charlotte's christening.  My daughter of course was thrilled, because Kate is our personal princess, the woman who is the sole reason that Raphaela will agree to wear warm weather clothing when it is cold outside.

Color me impressed.

(Compare this experience to Disney, the supposed experts in Princess marketing:  Raphaela wrote a letter to Elsa and Anna, and didn't even get a generic post card in return.)
When I was in fourth grade, the boys in the class wanted to torture the girls, and told us that Judy Blume was dead.  Our favorite author at the time, we girls immediately wrote to her publisher and asked if this was true.  I remember to this day receiving a letter from Judy Blume, in which she reassured us that she was not dead, and that she would be continuing to write for many years to come.  The author also sent us (just the girls) an autographed photo, and I still have it in my keepsake box.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

This morning Raphaela put on a necklace to wear to school, and she informed me that it was "magical."

When I asked her to explain the magic, she said that magic helps people be kind to each other.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Don't Go to Bed Angry

Yesterday was one of THOSE days.

After dropping Raphaela off at school, I worked straight through the next eight hours, with no break for lunch.  Some of my clients were charming as usual, and some were...difficult.  My final patient said she wanted to give me "constructive advice," explaining that she felt she would better get her money's worth if she paid me by the minute instead of my standard fee.  After admitting that in fact I had helped her tremendously and that my services were worthwhile, she could not understand why I would take some offence at her suggestion.  I told her that if she wanted to try out another practitioner that was more "frugal," she was more than welcome, and I showed her the door; she finally understood the implications, and lay quietly on the table while I treated her, and paid the full price.

But I was not happy.

Straight from school, Raphaela and I drove to the supermarket, sitting in the traffic of the Thursday afternoon shoppers, only to find that we did not have a parking space once we got to the store, and that the supplies had been ravaged by the holiday shoppers for Rosh HaShanah.

In Raphaela's enthusiasm to press the elevator button, she practically trampled a little old lady.  Startled, this woman started shrieking at my daughter; I instructed Raphaela to apologize, explaining that even if it was an accident, she needed to help this elderly woman calm down.  As soon as the elevator opened, Raphaela dashed into the parking lot and almost got run over by a car.

I was not happy.

When we got home, we went to the library and then looked at her homework assignments.  Which she didn't take seriously at all, scribbling on the pages and covering over the words.  I tried my best to explain that she needed to sit down and focus.  More stress between us and meanwhile, I had not eaten breakfast or lunch, and had reached my limit.

I was not happy.

The evening only degenerated from there, to the point that Raphaela went to bed angry at me, because I was angry at the world.  I had a small glass of red wine, and instead of helping me rest, it somehow woke up my brain and all those hostilities that had accumulated from the day.  So I started cleaning the house for Shabbat, watched a terrible movie on cable and finally fell asleep at midnight.

This morning, at six am, some random person yelled at me for feeding the street cats.

Then the great search for the weekend newspaper began. On a hunch, I knocked on the door of the neighbor with severe dementia, and indeed, she had scooped up all the papers for every resident in the building ( five in all) and was reading them happily.  Having sorted out the pile of crumpled sheets, I delivered each paper to its rightful owner in the building.

Of course, because Raphaela wanted to show me that we had not resolved the issues from the day before, she said to me, "I don't like your kisses and I will never snuggle with you again. Ever again."  She will say much worse as she gets older, I know.

On a normal day, I would deal with this rationally, understanding where the intentions originated.  Today it struck deep, and I told her that she had hurt my feelings and made me sad, and that I needed alone time.  Raphaela brought me a tissue but did not apologize.

Neither of us were happy, and that mood lasted all the way on our walk to school; whereupon I felt guilty because this fight would affect her focus in her classes.

I had planned on exercising today, but instead did the ten or so errands that I did not manage to finish yesterday.  All before school pick-up at 11:50.    I saw a friend on the street, she told me with admiration  that it must be challenging to be  be a single mother;  that every day is what she called a Zero Sum Game.

I replied that I wish it were Zero Sum, I am way in the Negative End Zone at the moment.

I  am not happy and would also like to cry, and get this out of my body and out of my system, but my schedule will not allow it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Rosh HaShanah

This year we attended synagogue both days, for the sounding of the shofar and because so many of Raphaela's friends from school seem to attend this particular place of worship. (Instant play date, yay!)  Additionally, it is located oh so conveniently three doors away from our building.

Before the blowing of the shofar, they lay out several tables of all the most classic/salty/unhealthy Israeli junk food that exists in the market.  Plus cakes and lollipops and Coca Cola, in case you didn't have enough variations of bisli, bamba and wafers.

On the first day, Raphaela filled her cup, and went back for second and fourths and sixth helpings.  I was almost embarrassed at a certain point, I could feel the disapproving stares of the other mothers who I am sure thought that I never feed my daughter. Anything.

At one point one woman came over to me and said, "I am guessing that you don't stock up on these things at home." Relieved that I was receiving the benefit of the doubt, I replied, "We have some basic treats, like chocolate and cookies, but nothing this unhealthy crosses the threshold into our house."

"Don't worry," this woman continued. "She seems like a self-assured and happy child, and when it comes to the Jewish holidays, give up any control you think you have over the engorging of junk food."

She continued, "As my saintly father of blessed memory used to say, 'Better a visit to the dentist than a stint on the psychologist's couch.'""

And to add to the party, the youth group also awarded the kids lollipops and marshmallows.  I prayed (in the spirit of the season) that Raphaela would come to her own conclusions, with a little help from a stomach ache.

Needless to say, on the second day in synagogue Raphaela showed a little more restraint, without any encouragement from me.  She even chose to eat dates over toffee.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

For a Good Year

Today Raphaela and I went to the Old City of Jerusalem for our annual pilgrimage before the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.  As always, it did not disappoint.

On the way into the Jewish Quarter, we passed a man bearing the cross, quite literally.  He held a seven foot high cross over his shoulder, as part of a Christian group visiting Jerusalem.

Every time a tourist group from China passed us (and there were many), Raphaela would shout out one of the three words we know in Chinese - Grandfather, Snow, Thank You - and kept showing disappointment when they did not respond to her attempts to communicate in their native tongue.

Along the way, Raphaela was put in charge of distributing the charity coins to all who asked, and she performed enthusiastically.

At the Kotel [Wailing Wall] we saw a group Native American women, in full regalia of feathers and ceremonial drums, praying together, amongst the other women. 

When I asked Raphaela about her private prayers at the Wall, she said she only needed a short time to put in her requests, because she asked for a father.  Then she looked at me and said in an almost otherworldly voice, "Surely there are good men out there who deserve a chance for your love?" I have come to the conclusion that in that moment, she was channeling my grandmother, for whom she was named.  Because magical things happen at this time of the Jewish calendar.

We met up with some cousins and ate ice cream, and on our journey out of the Old City, we saw a lone man carrying an abnormally large blue flag, demanding the return of the Third Temple in Jerusalem.

Raphaela and I wish everyone a year of light and blessings, a year of adventure and variety, a year of building beautiful memories.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

This One's On Me

Raphaela has now officially had two weeks of First Grade, and overall, seems to be enjoying the experience.  She has not quite grasped the idea that she does not want too much homework, and has been purposely not completing tasks during class time, so we can have that quality (stressful) time together at home.  I am trying to communicate to her that homework is not good for our relationship.

The only task she found frustrating this week was computer class:  they had time to draw a picture on screen and she told me that it "did not come out right" because she couldn't control the mouse.

Well of course, because I perhaps spend all of ten minutes on the computer every day, and when we are home together, we do play;  with dolls or art projects or reading books, but the computer never gets turned on.  Part of this has been an active choice, I believe in old-fashioned play, and part of it probably stems from the fact that I am a Luddite by nature.

Watching her frustration, however, I must get beyond my own issues with modern technology and admit that her generation was born with an iPhone in their hands; and that without proper comfort and training in computers, I am leaving my daughter at a disadvantage.

It hit me more a few days ago when she had a play date, and the first thing her new friend asked was whether we had any good computer games.

So now, every day, I set aside a half hour every day for computer play time. I have found two good free sites with games and coloring pages (nickjr and pbskids/Dr Suess) and I am forcing Raphaela to get comfortable with the mouse.  Forcing in a fun kind of way, because it is good for her.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Money Game

When you hear the phrase, "Education in Israel is Free," don't drink the Kool Aid.

Yes, it is most definitely true that compared to equivalent Jewish educational options in the United States, the system here is practically free.  But there is always the fee to cover the extra activities that the city budget does not supply, plus the extra payment for the glorified baby sitting [Tzaharon] to keep your child in school until four pm, and the fees for extra-curricular classes that take place on the school premises or elsewhere during the year.  And school books and uniforms and extra-special class get the idea.

Since Raphaela has started First Grade, I have had more homework than she;  they send home a new form daily for the parents to fill out, because it would have made no sense to give us all this paperwork at once, in a single package.  In addition, they have included the requisite requests for donations, toward the recent refurbishing of the playground area, or for the scholarship fund for needy families within the school population.

If I had several million dollars at my disposal, I would be happy and eager to sponsor an entire wing of the school.  I can remember from my own elementary and high school experience that the parents who had "real money" and not only built new classrooms but also served on the board, their children got special treatment.  It was obvious to me then that money talks, even when the intention comes solely from a place of good,  and giving purely for the sake of giving.

However, I am a single parent with no trust fund (that I know of), and most months of the year I can stay on budget.  Some months of the year, for example the upcoming period of Jewish holidays at the beginning of the Hebrew calendar, I barely work, and I put much effort into not going into a tailspin of panic.  Myself, and in fact most parents in Israel, married single or otherwise.

I will give when I can, because I actually do want to invest in my child's future, and I am truly impressed with the investment this staff and this school has already made into my daughter.  I hope that it is not held against me that I do not at the moment have as deep pockets as I would like.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Thar She Blows

Probably because of early exposure to the concept through Dora the Explorer, Raphaela has a fascination/fear with the phenomenon of volcanoes.  She has asked the question more times than I can count, "Do we or anyone we love live near an active volcano?" In response I found a current map of active volcanoes online, printed it out for her, and we reference it often.

To our friends in Singapore, she asked me to write them an email, clarifying the issue, to which they graciously responded, "We do not live near an active volcano.  Don't worry Raphaela, we will stay safe."

While I have not ridiculed her mild obsession, I try to down play the potential ripple;  I want Raphaela living in joy in the present, not worrying about what natural disasters could afflict us in the future.  Living in Israel, the life-and-death cloud hangs over us, a constant reminder that we are surrounded by 22 Arab states that want to wipe us off the map. My daughter doesn't need another potential enemy from Mother Nature or the Mayan Armageddon.

However, the teacher has become the student.

Yesterday I had a new patient, a visiting scientist from southern Italy.  In the process of the medical intake interview, I found this question slipping out of my mouth:  "Do you live near an active volcano?" (According to our volcano map, Italy is chock full of potential lava danger.)

I know that Raphaela would have been proud of me in that moment.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

And So It Came To Be

Monday Night

8:00 pm,  Raphaela goes to sleep, leaving her back pack right next to her pillow
11:45 pm, After watching a movie, reading a few chapters of my book and drinking a small glass of wine, I fall asleep.

Tuesday, First Day of School

2:00 am,  Raphaela comes into my bedroom, wide awake, and asks, "What are you doing?" I answer, "I am sleeping."
5:30 am, Raphaela wakes me up, gets dressed by herself, and puts on her back pack.  The back pack does not come off.
6:00 am, Rapheala informs me that her sport shoes are too small for her, and indeed she is correct; her toes can be felt at the tip of the sneakers. Because of my background in the Jewish Girl Scouts, I have a pair for her that is the next size up, and some lucky person will basically be getting a new pair of girl's shoes.
7:30 am, We feed the street cats and I throw out the garbage, and we head out for the first day of First Grade.  I show Raphaela various markers along the route (a big rock, twin trees, a small forest, a tunnel) so that when she is older, she will have no problem walking to school with her friends.
7:45 am, We are greeted by the principal at the front gate, and see lots of different families we know from the neighborhood and from previous incarnations of Gan.  Raphaela goes to her classroom and sits in the front row.
Then another little girl comes and sits next to her, and her parents explain that she is an English speaker, and that her name is Elsa.  This is starting out well, thank you G-d for small and large miracles.  Of note, there are three angel-like names in the class - Raphaela, Michaela and Gabriella - so there will lots of divine energy in the room.
8:00 am, Raphaela's teacher arrives and my daughter kicks me out the door. I join a group of parents staying right outside the classroom and all of lamenting, "I am so emotional.  I don't want to go."
8:20 am, I drop off all the charitable donation items at Raphaela's Gan from last year. Several of the parents look at me funny and say, "Didn't your daughter move on?" Yes she did.
Walking home to get ready for work, I realize that I am exceptionally sweaty and it is not all that hot in Jerusalem.  It must be the nervous excitement.
12:45, Early pick up from school as it is the first day.  The teacher is running a little late, which causes the next cascade of homework issues.
13:15 pm, We get home and Raphaela takes out her folder, with one page for the parents to fill out, and a letter for the parents from the principal.  When I ask Raphaela if she has any other homework, she says that she has forgotten, and then gets impatient with me for asking. 
We are going to have to come up with a system for this.
So I call the mother of one of the girls in her class, who was also in her Gan class last year.  She laughs and explains that this teacher purposely does not tell the parents about assignments, because she wants the girls to take responsibility for themselves.  The teacher is fully cognizant that it means that some homework will be forgotten at the beginning of the year.  But apparently tonight there is no problem, nothing more to do.
As soon as I hung up, the phone rang and it was another mother who had the exact same discussion /argument with her daughter, and was unclear as to whether there was more homework.  We laughed at our situation as newbies, and decided that we need to set up a whatsapp group to support each other and ask stupid questions.

With the last little bit of vacation remaining, Raphaela and I ate a quick lunch and went to the pool.
Tomorrow it's really real.