Sunday, January 31, 2016

I Have a Dream

And in that dream, I get one month off from my responsibilities as a mother, where I don't have to get up early and make lunches and take to school and pick up from school and supervise homework and hear another story about the imaginary unicorn who went to school.

Of course I am more realistic,  and so God Willing, this coming Shabbat, my daughter will be having a sleep over from Friday to Saturday night with my parents, who will be visiting from the United States.  That is assuming that Raphaela's cough does not develop into anything real;  my parents are essentially coming to meet my brother's new baby, and I don't want her making anyone ill, especially not a newborn.

What will I do for that 36 hour period?  I am hoping to make arrangements with friends and have some grown-up play time.  Or maybe I will stay in my pajamas all Saturday and eat junk food all day.  But this would be the first time that I will be alone, away from Raphaela, since she was born, unless you count the three days I was hospitalized with my emergency appendectomy.

There is, however, a major catch:  the last two times my parents have visited Israel, marks the last two times that Raphaela fell and split open her chin, necessitating a visit to the emergency room at Shaarei Zedek Hospital. One of those events occurred when Raphaela was playing with my mother, who has never gotten used to my child's high level of energy.

Accidents, both times, totally unintentional and I do not blame my parents in any way.  The second time we went to the emergency room, they looked at me funny and asked many questions to confirm that I am not a negligent or abusive parent.  If we show up a third time with the same exact injury, I can pretty much guarantee that Social Services will show up at my door.

So yes, I admit that there is a part of me that does not trust my parents to keep my child out of harm's way, given their track record.  Three times is NOT a charm.  Considering that the entire weekend will be spent running around with cousins, I pray that the cycle of dangerous falls and stitches is over.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Last night before bed, Raphaela and I read the Dr. Seuss classic, "Yertle the Turtle."  I had always thought it was a not-so-veiled reference to Hitler and World War II, or at the very least an anti-bullying diatribe.

After we finished the book, I asked Raphaela what she learned, what she thought about the moral of the story, and she replied, "We learn the God is bigger than all of us."

Well push me down with a feather, I did not see that answer coming.

Frozen, Jerusalem Style

Apparently Elsa was very busy last night, because this morning we didn't have any running water, and nor did the car start.

I was complaining about the fact that I would not get my morning shower, my ten minutes of me-time, and Raphaela said, with a practical tone of voice, "Mommy, be thankful for what you do have.  And besides, now we can have a great breakfast together, with all that extra time."

Monday, January 25, 2016

The predicted snow for Jerusalem did not arrive, and so Raphaela had school today.  Though I did not have any patients scheduled, because they all canceled earlier in the week, "just in case it might snow."

As we arrived at the school building, one of the older girls was giving out a note to the parents who walked inside:  festooned with colorful flowers and butterflies, the note read, "The Keys to a Great Day are a smile, an orderly house, and a cup of coffee."

I asked the girl if she drinks coffee, and she laughed, but said, "I'm only in fifth grade!  But we know that parents need lots of coffee."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Two Teenagers

This morning, between the rain and the jet lag from the weekend, both Raphaela and I were moving slowly.  Raphaela more so, it took her ten minutes to find her jacket and put on her boots.  Nudging her along became impatience and shouting, whereupon Raphaela looked at me calmly and said, "Mommy, the more you yell and try to push me to get moving, the slower I will actually be."

Then the cat decided that I must be wrong about the weather, and insisted upon going outside with us.  Even at it rained upon him, and I gave Harry the option to come back inside, he looked at me and defiantly decided that he would stay outside in the cold, in the rain and in the mud.  Because, I surmise, by agreeing to come back inside, he would be admitting that he was wrong.

Later in the middle of my work day, I geared up and went outside, found Harry cowering under a car nearby, wrapped him in a towel and took him upstairs.  All the way up, he sat in my arms complaining, I imagine saying something like, "Mommy, it's disgusting outside!  How could you let me stay out there?"

Anger Management

Normally, Raphaela and I walk to school, but today the heavy rain and the frigidity of the air decided differently, we drove. (They are maybe expecting snow in Jerusalem later this week.)

Quite close to the school, they have a designated drop-off/pick up parking area, where it is expected that parents will stay there no longer than ten minutes in the morning or the afternoon.  As I pulled into one of these spots, so as to avoid getting soaked on the way into the building, one of the teachers from the school (whom I did not recognize) stepped in the way of the car.  I rolled down my window and she said, with a smile frozen on her face, "Were you going to park here?"

"Why yes," I said. "I will be out in five minutes."
"Well," said the teacher, with that odd smile still stuck there, "my friend wants that space.  And she says she was here first." 
I pointed out that the laws of space and time would dictate that if she were here first, her car would already be parked there, and I would have to find another space.
"I SAID," the teacher continued, not budging an inch, "MY friend WANTS this space.  She is going to park here all day."

As it was getting closer to the school bell, I begrudgingly agreed to move my car.  Not because I avoid confrontation;  Israel has cured me of that.  But rather because I knew that someday my daughter might have one of these two teachers, and telling the truth of this situation ["Fucking Teacher Mafia" and "Selfish Bitch" come to mind] would bring harm upon Raphaela some day, in the way that she would be treated by a teacher I am meant to trust with my child and her education.

I spent the next few minutes re-parking, taking deep breaths and muttering, "Let it go, let it go..."  As Raphaela and I were walking up to the school, this pair of teachers happened to be right in front of us.  They looked back at me with defiance and guilt, and I could hear one say to the other, "I wanted that spot. It was mine! Really, I wanted it. "

A less mature me would have walked up to her and said, "Oh, it was your spot? I didn't see your name on it."  A more mature me would have walked up to her and said, "If you have to spend ten minutes justifying your actions, you must know it was wrong."

The mature me said nothing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

This morning I had an errand in the center of town in Jerusalem, where the parking goes from horrendous to impossible, so I decided to take the bus instead.

A few minutes after settling into my seat, the woman across from me started kicking my leg, hard.  I put on my best stern Mommy voice and told her to stop and she continued, harder.

So I moved seats, and she turned around and started spitting at me, and grabbing at my shirt, trying to tear it. 

It was obvious to me that she was mentally impaired, and I did my best to get away from her, but's a bus.  When I stopped making eye contact with the woman and also saw the futility in asking her stop, she turned her attentions to the bus driver.

For the record:  I did nothing to deserve and provoke this attack.  No, not a single person watching stood up to help me.

And lastly, if she had not been so clearly emotionally and mentally disturbed, she would not be walking now.

Hell of a way to start the day.

The Big Talk

For most of the six plus years of Raphaela's life, she has very rarely asked about the identity of her biological father/sperm donor, and when she does ask, the subject passes fairly quickly.  In the last two weeks, Raphaela has become almost obsessive about it, and will frequently get this terribly sad look on her face and say, "I miss my Daddy."

Despite the fact that she knows the story of her conception, that I chose to have her and that she does not have a father who will come home, it has obviously become more pressing to her.  Since nothing has changed at home, I can only assume that not only is she more aware now that she is older, but that her classmates have also discussed it with her.

Toward that end, I met today with the School Counsellor/Psychologist, with the intention of gaining some insight and perhaps some tips as to how to deal with this in the best and healthiest way possible. After telling the Counsellor about my approach, she assured me that I am in fact a very good parent and that I am handling it well.

Then she expressed a desire to do more within the realm of the school, because it will undoubtedly come up again in Raphaela's six years at Evelyna.  The Counsellor suggested that she first have a casual sit down with my daughter, to see where her head is at.  Following that discussion, she plans on leading an activity in the classroom to talk about the legitimacy of every type of family;  every family is different, and what matters most is that there is love and a sense of security.  "The girls," she said, "need a common language of respect on the subject."

The Counsellor also told me that there is another girl in the class whose father died over two years ago, during the most recent war in Gaza.  She assured me that both my daughter and this other child show no signs of depression or a "lack thereof" of a father, that Raphaela is warm and well-adjusted, with a deep sense and appreciation of self.

I closed the session by telling the Counsellor that I do tell Raphaela that just because there is no father in the house at the moment, does not mean that someday I will meet a wonderful man who will become both husband and father.

To which the Counsellor applied, in true beautiful and authentic Israeli style, "Tell me what you are looking for, I know people, you know!"

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Shiva Crashers

Growing up in the United States, Shiva [the seven day period of mourning] was a serious adult deal, quite formal in its rules and code of behavior.  Even when my great-grandfather died, I did not attend the funeral or the Shiva, because it was not a place for children.  And I was old enough to know that he was gone.

This past week, the 92 year old father of one of our neighbors died, and the Shiva is taking place quite literally next door.  Every time we leave the house to go to school or to ballet, the door is open and the sign on the door declares that this is a house of mourning.

The first day of the Shiva, I told Raphaela that we were going there not to entertain, but to sit quietly and take our cue from our neighbor. If he wanted to talk, fine, and if not we would sit there out of respect.  Well, Israel being Israel, Jerusalem being Jerusalem, and this being the Jewish country, apparently the law of One Extended Family applies.

At our first visit, Raphaela spoke less than her normal self, but was still warm and engaging, and as we left, she gave him a big hug.  She also left with a glass of juice and piece of cake, kindly given to Raphaela by the mourner's wife.  And every day since, every time we pass the door, Raphaela insists upon going inside for even a minute, to say hello and to deliver one of her patented hugs;  to show him a shiny rock she has just found, or to perform the dance she has just learned.

My Israeli friends tell me that in this country the process of Shiva is far less formal, and that it is "lovely" that Raphaela has made it her mission to cheer up our mourning neighbor.  They cite many examples where the Shiva evolves into a celebration of life and family, a place where smiles and stories are welcome.  I am still uncomfortable with the behavior to some degree, it is the stiff New England American in me, despite the 18 plus years I have lived here.

Far be it from me, however,  to teach Raphaela that compassion toward another person should be limited, in thought or in deed.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Last night I attended the 50th birthday party of my cousin; it was very much a grown-up affair, with a museum tour and a lecture from Moshe Arens, a beloved (retired) Israeli MK.  As much as I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation, let me say that when I turn 50 in a few years, there will be alcohol, and most probably and beach and BBQ involved.

Raphaela stayed home with a baby sitter, and this morning when she woke up, I saw that her very talented sitter Alexis had made my daughter a beautiful French braid, a skill set that I lack.

Mom:  Wow, your hair is beautiful!  Alexis is the coolest.
RR:  Mommy, you're still cooler.
Mom:  (blushing slightly) How's that?
RR:  Because there are lots of things that you know how to do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Stories from the Parenting Front

Among the various Jerusalem superstitions about pregnancy and childbirth, I had heard many times that if you do not make some sort of official celebration for a daughter, she will not get married in the future.  Sounds to me like an excuse for a catered party.

Last night Raphaela and I attended the Simchat Bat [Hebrew for The Celebration of a Girl] of a new cousin, Baby Rachel.  Between the family gathering, the loot bag for children and the giant table of candy AKA Raphaela's dinner, my daughter declared it to be "the best day ever."

I asked her if she really meant it, that this day and this party held the number one spot on her Best Day Ever List. I reminded her about our beach vacation, my brother's glamorous wedding, starting First Grade, and other events in our lives that could just as easily top the list.

Raphaela agreed and said, "I have a lot of best days ever."


This morning on the way to school, Raphaela asked me, "Which nation does God love best?"

Me:  God loves all his creations and all his people.  Like our friends in Singapore, they are not Jewish and God loves them too.
Raphaela:  And what about the Arabs?
Me:  God created all people, including the Arabs.  God loves them, though sometimes he wishes that they would behave a bit better.
Raphaela:  And what would happen if the Arabs behaved better and everyone was nice to each other?
Me:  Planet Earth would be a great place to live.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Lost Art of Writing

Somewhat frequently, I must sign Raphaela's homework pages, though her teacher generally takes a lasseiz faire attitude towards adult supervision of assignments.  The other day, Raphaela asked me to teach her how to do a "Parent's Signature."

Me:  First learn all the letters, and then you will start learning script letters.  After you know script, you can create your own signature.
Raphaela:  (nodding head in understanding)
Mom:  In any case, it is my job to sign your homework assignments, since I am the Mommy.
Raphaela:  Your signature is easy enough, it's just a line with three bumps.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

I Already Have a Teenager

This morning on the way to school, Raphaela used a term in Hebrew and I corrected her.  She continued to insist that she was correct and I was wrong, and would not listen to my explanation.  Raphaela literally covered her ears and did the "La la la, I'm not listening" show for my benefit.

I told Raphaela that although I don't know everything, I know a little bit more than her at this point in my life.  She replied, "Well we are the First Grade girls of Evelyna, we can be smart too."

When we got to school, I sat down with her and wrote out my explanation, trying to make it clear that it's OK to admit that you made a mistake, and that others have something to teach you.

Raphaela took the sheet of paper and crumpled it up, saying, "I am not interested in this conversation anymore."

Six years old.  Lord help me when we get to the teenage years, where she will know everything and be invincible.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Stories from the Parenting Front

When I became pregnant, I made a vow not to swear in front of my future child, because words have power.
Apparently during the birth (according to my doula) I "swore like a sailor," to the point that it shocked her slightly. I don't really remember, but can you blame me? I didn't get my epidural.

These days, my worst volley of curse words come out when I am driving, because despite the fact that I learned how to drive in Boston, Israeli drivers seem to be even worse.  Last night, while driving Raphaela to ballet in the rain, I substituted the classic Israeli "OOF!" for the F-word, because Raphaela was sitting in the back seat.  She obviously sensed my Code Red level of stress.

RR:  Mommy, Please don't use that word, it hurts my heart.
Me:  So what should I say instead if I am frustrated or nervous?
RR:  Try using "Yesh" [Hebrew for Hooray]. "I love you" also works nicely.

(I have this feeling that my daughter and the Dalai Lama could do good work together.)


6:30 am this morning, while the two of us stood at the bathroom sink brushing our teeth.

RR:  Mommy, I washed my hands to take away the bacteria and stay healthy.
Me:  You know that there is good bacteria and bad bacteria in your body.
RR:  Why do we have good and bad bacteria?
Me:  The Universe is all about balance.  Good and bad. Light and dark. Yin and Yang.
RR:  Male and Female!  Like we learned when God created the world!
RR:  A boy has a penis, what does a girl have?
Me:  A vagina.
RR: Hey, that rhymes with China.
Me:  Indeed.

A Brave New World in Children's Literature

Some of my best ideas and inspirations happened in college, except that I didn't know how to develop them into something real and long-term.  For example, I started taking black and white photographs of the homeless people who lived on the sidewalk near Barnard/Columbia.  In exchange for them telling me their life story and allowing me to take their picture, I would give them a hearty lunch (sandwich, fruits, drink etc) and my full attention during the interview.

"Someday," I thought, "this could become a fascinating best-selling book."  Well, HONY [Humans of New York] has pretty much taken care of that niche in the market.  I follow the site and own the books, and in between loving the content and the impact this project has had, I wonder how I could have done it first.

In college I also took a creative writing course, and one of my favorite (award-winning) stories was the story of The Three Little Pigs, as told from the perspective of the wolf.  In my short story, the wolf was a rapper on MTV, with asthma; no apologies from me vis a vis the back story, it was the 80's.

This past Friday, at the library with Raphaela to get our weekend reading, we took out a children's book called The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, as told from the perspective of the wolf.  In it, the wolf explains how he was framed because all he had was a powerful sneeze, and that he was visiting his neighbors the pigs to borrow a cup of sugar, to bake a cake for his grandmother; a reference presumably to the wolf who eats Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother in another gruesome fairy tale.  The premise of the book, which is less for children than for their cynical and hip parents, is that the media had to hype the story and make him look like the Big Bad, because the birthday cake angle doesn't sell papers.

We have a similar children's book, a gift from a cousin, called Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type, which I feel is written as much for the parents as well as the kids.  The book describes, using animals as a substitute for humans (how very George Orwell), how effective blackmail works if used intelligently.  My mother hates this story and will not read it to my daughter, because she feels it teaches children how to be manipulative and be rewarded for it.

I can see her point, children these days are more savvy, and their books are written accordingly. On the other hand, it is a funny book and the illustrations work well, and while my daughter may be bright, I don't know how much she reads into the subtext beyond the slapstick.

On Sesame Street, Cookie Monster is enrolled in a 12-step program for his impulse control issues, Elmo may as well be taking Ritalin, and Telly is probably on anti-depressants. Snuffy was revealed to the rest of the street over fear that children may not tell their parents that they are being abused, because no one would believe them.  Katy Perry appeared on the children's educational program half-naked, and I don't remember there being any outcry from parents.   We're not in Kansas anymore...

Raphaela and I recently finished reading The Little Prince together, and as I was bawling and feeling my entire understanding of the Universe deepen, she did not venture beyond the basic story IE plane gets fixed, Little Prince goes home to his flower, man is sad.

As a person who was quite naïve until I left for college, I wonder if we are raising this 21rst Century of children better, or if we are denying them some aspect of that idyllic youth, by exposing them to reality too early.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Movie Audition Part II

Apparently Warner Brothers has not yet filled the role for which they had intended to audition Raphaela, almost one month ago.  I have since received two more requests to bring Raphaela in for an audition, and she remains adamant.

But I must be missing something, because we had the following conversation this morning:

RR:  Can you check email, and see if they want me to come for the audition?
Me:  I know they want it, they wanted to see you tomorrow, after school.
RR:  (Mild smile on her face)
Me:  So I can still say yes.
RR:  No!  Tell them that if they ask me again I will get very angry.

So does she want this, or not, and as a parent, do I push her slightly out of her comfort zone, or do I take her "No!" at face value?