Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This afternoon, while playing in the house, Raphaela found a Winter scarf;  she put it over her shoulders, told me that she was wearing tzitzit, and launched into an entire re-creation of the Gan morning singing and praying.

The first thing I did NOT want to do was say, "No sweetie, only Jewish boys wear tzitzit and can lead the prayers."  Instead I smiled, nodded my head and said, "Yes, that is tzitzit.  Can I hear the songs you sing at Gan?"

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Serious Choices

After months of trying to coordinate with my lawyer, I finally sat down with him today for a marathon meeting to finalize my (brace for it, arghhh) Last Will and Testament, before we fly out to the States in two weeks.  You would think that as a Doctor, I would not feel quite so depressed and squeamish on the topic, but it is a far different thing when making choices for you and the ones you love, the child who depends on you.

Of course, I should be blessed with a nice long and uneventful life, though it never hurts to be prepared.

We discussed the issues large and small, including guardianship and financial planning; why I haven't yet bought my own place; what happens if I cannot make medical decisions for myself; the philosophical implications of the connection between the body and the soul; and who gets the cat.  He humored me when I discussed my wish to donate organs:  "I don't mind giving up body parts I no longer need, but I don't want any experimentation done on my brain."  (Said the Luddite and the science fiction reader in me.) By the end, I was physically nauseous with a headache, shivering and had trouble concentrating, because I did not want to have to imagine worse-case scenarios.

All this I do for my own peace of mind, and for my daughter's future.  Now I think I will pick Raphaela up from Gan, take her to Gymboree and enjoy living in The Now.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Giving Tree

My "To Do When You Have Time" list includes the project of sorting through Raphaela's book shelves, culling those that are no longer appropriate or challenging at the age of three, and introducing some of the more advanced books that Raphaela received as baby gifts.

Shabbat being Shabbat, the floor of the playroom was entirely covered this afternoon as Raphaela and I sorted through her collection, and then we sat on my bed to read together.

We started with The Giving Tree (Shel Silverstein), and about half way through the book I started to feel both sad and angry, and by the time we got to the end I was crying.  I'm not even sure how to explain my reaction to this fable of Motherhood and Sacrifice, but I do know that I didn't like it.  When Raphaela saw me crying, she gently closed the book and put on the side and said, "Don't worry Mommy, we won't read this book anymore."

To counteract my sadness, we read Corduroy (Don Freeman) and by the end I was once again crying, but this time out of nostalgia: "This must be home...I know I've always wanted a home." When I explained to Raphaela that these were tears of happiness, she took the book from my hands and smiled, and said, "I will hold onto this book for us."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Last night, while sleeping in my bed, with her head up against mine [hogging my pillow], Raphaela laughed in her sleep.  For almost three minutes she giggled as if she was dreaming about being tickled, or having just heard a funny joke.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Murphy's Law of Swim Lessons

After months of resistance and suffering, I canceled Raphaela's swim lessons starting the month of November.  This evening, the first part of the class elicited the usual chorus of "No," and then for no discernible reason, something switched in Raphaela's head.

She participated.  She swam. She jumped through the water obstacle course with no hesitation and sheer joy.

At the end of the half hour, I gave the teacher a look, she returned that look and said, "Let's not spoil the moment with words."

Of course, this is Little Miss Swimmer's second to last lesson before we go on "break."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Leap Frog

First the month of back-to-back Jewish holidays and intermittent vacation from Gan.  Then Raphaela was ill, and last week her birthday party dominated my schedule.  Now that all those events have passed, our visit to the United States takes priority.

While indulging in excessive list-making for the trip, it occurred to me that soon after we return from America after Thanksgiving, it will be Chanukah, time once again to register Raphaela for Gan, for next year!  Since I wanted to give myself the opportunity to choose wisely, knowing that next year Raphaela must officially enter the public school system, today I visited a Gan down the street, one whose principle Nursery Teachers has not only received personal recommendations, but has also won award from the Israeli Ministry of Education.

The location of course presumes that we will continue to live in this neighborhood next year, though my thoughts wander towards a more single Mom friendly area of Jerusalem, if only it didn't involve moving. (Sigh)

The kid to staff ratio was good;  their program extends for two years, so Raphaela would not have to switch yet again before first grade; I observed during unstructured play time, and there was plenty of choice of activities;  I was particularly impressed with their library corner.

The teacher with whom I spoke said that she would be happy to have Raphaela join their nursery next year, but warned me that the ultimate decision lies with the Municipality.  Because my daughter was born on Erev Succot, she straddles that boundary of being a bit young within the rest of the group.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Emunah Birthday Bash

Israel does an amazing job with nursery school birthday parties, the protocol is firmly in place:  crown, picture collage from the rest of the class, traditional songs and dances.  Your child will feel like a Princess, a Movie Star, the Center of the Universe. 

The new Gan did not disappoint today, and in addition to the regular and expected chain of events, I felt almost as included as the young guest of honor.  I sat next to Raphaela in a slightly larger but just as decorated chair.   I was asked to give my daughter a blessing in front of her class mates, and became overwhelmed by the emotion; her three teachers followed, each coming up to the front of the room and bestowing their personal wishes and affection.  For a brief period - as much as the patience of toddlers would allow - Raphaela's friends were encouraged to ask me questions about her, to tell stories about the origin of her name, her family, and what kind of games she prefers to play.

Raphaela and I had a special dance at the center of the circle, a girl and her Mommy.

At a certain point in the ceremony, Raphaela was encouraged to give money into the classroom charity box, to show that we should remember others during happy occasions.

The chocolate birthday cake, which I designed myself this year in an African jungle theme, worked its magic, with all the children inexorably drawn to lick the frosting, seemingly hypnotized and chanting softly, "Cake, cake, we want cake." 

All in all a successful party, and it pleased me most of all to see Raphaela interact with her friends, behave like a leader and role model for the other slightly younger children in the group.  The self-confidence and leadership skills she gains this year makes the change worth while, and adds tools to her life experience.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Getting to Know You

Now that the bloc of holidays has ended, the parents in the class and the Gan staff in general seems to have relaxed, and we are all making the effort to learn names and get to know each other. It helped that the Birthday Board has photos of Raphaela, in honor of her celebration this week, and it has not gone un-noticed that the family portrait contains Raphaela and her mother (and cat), sans father figure.

 In conversation today with the manager of the Gan, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that "C" [Ultra-Orthodox/"Chardal", hair covering, nine children] has a JSMBC sister, whose boy is now five years old; a child welcomed with full and open hearts by the family.  C asked me if I have any family in the country who  help me, and noted with gravity and some level of admiration that I was "really doing this all on my own."  C noted that there are two other single mothers in the Gan this year, and that she has always been impressed how single parents by choice "clearly invest in their children," and how " happy and communicative" my daughter has been since she started their program.

How refreshing to receive not only a lack of judgement, but rather positive reinforcement, especially coming from people who spend nine hours/day with my child, and see her outside the context of the house.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Double Take

Yesterday afternoon at the park, as Raphaela was swinging from the monkey bars, I saw a father with his son and my jaw dropped open.  This one year old was the male version, a clone, of one of Raphaela's close friends, whose mother conceived via fertility treatments as an Israeli single mother by choice.  This woman always jokes that her daughter- dark straight hair, deep olive skin and petite - looks nothing like her, with her seriously Ashkenazi freckles, light skin and curly strawberry blond hair.

Yes, they say that each person has a doppelganger somewhere on the planet or in an alternative Universe, but this felt entirely different.  Obviously I did not go over to the man and ask him if he had at one time been a donor, but the question continues to haunt me:  Would I recognize Raphaela's biological donor if I ever met him on the street?  And what would I say to him if I dared to approach?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Countdown to Birthday Party II

Assuming Raphaela stays healthy, I have scheduled her Gan birthday party for next week.  In response, her teacher gave me a list of supplies, which reads as follows:

"To Raphaela's Mother, Please bring the following for the birthday party:

1.  34 Loot bags, to be given out at the end of the school day
2.  Four to five photos of Raphaela, to be displayed on the Birthday Board
3.  One package of small paper plates
4.  Healthy snacks for 34 children, to be given out right after the party
5.  One package of balloons (optional)
6.  Candles for birthday cake
7.  One small birthday cake (Kosher)

The party will take place this coming Wednesday, G-d Willing, Amen!"

The Gan will provide the all-coveted Birthday Crown, Birthday Booklet and the entertainment.

Perhaps my math brain is sleeping, but one small cake for 34 children?  I think I shall ignore that instruction and bring a larger cake, enough to feed all the class and even some of the teachers.  After all, this is the first party of the Gan year, I want everyone to come away happy.  As one of the older children in the Gan, Raphaela can set the trend.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Teething, Again

As a baby, Raphaela's teeth erupted without fuss;  no fever or diahrea or crying, they simply appeared. We got lucky.

Two days ago, Raphaela was sent home from Gan with complaints of severe ear pain, though no other symptoms, not even fever or loss of apetite.  Our family doctor examined her and said that her ears were clear on both sides, as was her lymphatic system and her throat.  He theorized that Raphaela could be experiencing the effects of erupting molars, and concluded that she could in fact return to her routine. She stayed home with me (and a baby sitter) yesterday and acted more or less like herself, so when she woke up this morning with no fever and some low level crankiness, I informed her that she would be returning to school.

"Mommy, I feel better but I don't want to go to Gan.  I want to stay home with you."

For both our sakes and with a little bit of bribery, Raphaela happily got dressed and went to Gan, leaving me the normalcy that I need to work today and actually make some money after a week and a half of vacation.

When I left her there, she seemed fine and settled in quickly.

Here's the problem:  ever since my heart-to-heart chat with Savta Shira, I have been doubting every decision I make regarding Raphaela.  Every time I open my mouth, I think to myself, "Am I giving into her again?  What a parody I have become, the stereotypical overtired/overworked/overindulgent/weak single mother.  [The kind I always saw on the BBC parenting shows with Dr. Tanya, and said to myself, I will never become THAT...] Wow, am I a lousy person."

I will get out of this loop of negativity, but I don't know how to convey to Savta Shira how betrayed I felt, and how deeply it has affected me both in terms of the trust in our relationship, and how I see myself as a parent.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Painful Truth

If your family can't tell you the unedited truth, then who can?

I used to think that I always want to hear the ugly truth, rather than the sugar coated half-truth version, but after today I may reassess my opinion.

Savta Shira called me this afternoon, first she apologized if she seemed distant and less communicative than usual at our most recent visit yesterday.  She explained that since the Summer she has been on the road to burn out, between dealing with her son (who moved to Israel with his family this Fall), her other son who got married in August, several clients and friends who died of cancer, and her other adopted families.  Turns out, she did not really want company this past weekend, she needed to be alone, but "it cannot be avoided on the holidays."  And, she added, I should not take it personally, she didn't want "people" around her in the general sense.

[So it was all a lie?  She was not happy to celebrate Raphaela's birthday?!]

Then she continued and told me that the real reason she called is because she has become extremely concerned about both myself and Raphaela.  She had noticed at the last few visits that as Raphaela gets older, she shows less and less of an ability to play with others when I am to be found anywhere in the vicinity.  That she has me "wrapped around her finger," that "I don't sit for a minute because I am so busy taking care of her,"  and that this connection to me is becoming objectively unhealthy.  While Raphaela is a "sweet girl," if I don't change my behaviour as a parent, I will hurt us both, and Raphaela will turn into a "manipulative and spoiled child."

"Not everyone knows how to be a mother.  You need help, though it's not your fault you don't have any family who will support you."  [Bells went off in my head, Savta Shira cannot be there for me!]  She continued, "And it's better that you hear it from me than from your own family, when you see them in November in the States."

Just to make me feel better, apparently I am clearly physically and emotionally exhausted all the time. Savta Shira noted that the person I was before Raphaela, the woman who exercised and went to movies and hung out with friends, has gotten completely lost;  in addition, my clear road to parenting has gotten muddled because of the "modern garbage" in which you give children a certain amount of choice.

Now for the cherry on the icing on the god damn chocolate cake of f***king honesty:  I was a topic of conversation throughout the weekend, between Savta Shira and her children, Savta Shira and some of her friends, and between Savta Shira and her daughter-in-law, an Occupational Therapist who specializes in kids. They all want to "help." I love being talked about behind my back, though I give them points for informing me after the fact.

I thanked her, because I know that it comes from love and caring for our welfare.  I have already expessed to myself, to Savta Shira, and to others that I feel a great need to reclaim some space and to take better care of myself.  I am aware that I sometimes give into Raphaela rather than hold steadfast, because the day must move along and I am indeed a single mother.

And yet, this hurt and pressed buttons deep within me.  Because I have spent most of my life feeling like my presence was unwelcome among my family, that I was too much of a burden to be loved unconditionally.  That's a large part of the reason I moved to Israel, to redefine and strengthen my inner self in a clean setting, but the old wounds remain, closer to the surface than I would like to believe.

When I get attacked like this, even when it comes from the best of intentions, I turn inward and shut myelf off from others.  I stop eating and I lose my enthusiasm for even the most simple daily tasks.  I cannot feel emotionally safe in an environment where I feel less-than or judged.

This event took place in the shadow of a difficult day; my first full day back at work in over a week, Raphaela's Gan called me take her home at noon, because she was complaining of severe pain in her right ear.  How am I supposed to take care of myself, create a safe space for myself, when I have a child who is conveniently ill as soon as the holidays end?  Is it better if I dump Raphaela in a field somewhere and hope someone takes her home, like a stray kitten?

Savta Shira tried to soften the blow of this important conversation by providing her own  theory:  "With your history with your family and the abuse, it is natural that you would overcompensate in raising your daughter.  You have become over-protective because you have forgotten that Raphaela is not you, and you are not your Mother."

Whatever.  (That's the word that appears when I shut off my feelings and go into Zombie Mode.)  I am going to have to work very hard to not shut myself off from Savta Shira and her family, a place where right now, I quite simply don't feel safe.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Through a Child's Eyes

We went away to Tekoa, to Savta Shira's family, for the final days of Succot.  I had no intention of attending the dancing Sunday night;  I thought that I would dress Raphaela, send her off with friends and get in that nap I so desperately needed.

Instead, Savta Shira insisted that I join them, and thus found myself in their synagogue, on Simchat Torah.  As the Universe would have it, I was also the first women to get the Torah from the men's side and dance at the center of the circle, one hand on the precious symbol of Judaism, the other hand holding Raphaela's.  The choice baffled many of the women in the room, and several of them came over to me during the event and introduced themselves, with the implicit question "Who the hell are you and how did you get to be the first one?", behind the niceties and the curiosity.  But I actually became emotional at that honor, and got caught up in the singing and the dancing, more than I have in years.

I also completely underestimated Raphaela's response to the evening.  A child who generally dislikes large crowds and noise, she sobbed in grief (with a stream of 'real tears') when I suggested at a certain point that we had to leave the dancing and go home for dinner.  In all her three years of life, I have never seen her so adamantly insist upon anything, and the thought of breaking her heart made me change my mind.

(Her resistance to leaving, crossing the threshold of the doorway, reminded me of one my favorite scenes from the movie, "Field of Dreams," with Doc and the hot dog and the white line on the base ball field...if you don't get my reference it's OK, it means something to me.)

The Jewish communal experience only got sweeter today, when she braved the men's section all by herself and discovered The Candy Man, who gave her a lollipop, a treat she never gets from me at home.  "I'm happy now, Mommy."  After the joyous aliyah to the Torah for the mass of children in the community, the synagogue had arranged for each child to receive a goody bag, similar and perhaps even nicer than one she might anticipate from a friend's birthday party.  Bamba, soft drink, chocolate wafers, hard candy; as a parent and as a Chiropractor, I can't say that I was thrilled with her 'lunch,' but as another woman said to me, "It's the holidays, just let it go."

After two friend birthday parties during Succot, her own mini birthday celebration at Savta Shira's house, and her upcoming party at Gan,  I have reached my tolerance for junk food, and had a hard time accepting that our primary protein the last few days has been chocolate cake.  (What?!  It has eggs, grains, possibly healthy oil and chocolate, which has been credited with many curative properties...)

Most of all, I learned from this weekend that Raphaela craves a warm and welcoming sense of community, and that I as the adult in the house must seek out that place that will grant her that gift.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Post-Birth Body

After giving birth to Raphaela and nursing for the first year and a half, I had lost a significant amount of weight.  A fashion-conscious Israeli friend of mine came over before we moved last year and helped me clean out my closet from clothing that was either way too large for me, or past due to be donated.  I think I gave away almost 15 bags to charity.

As the Israeli Winter approaches, I noted that I have very little to wear either during the work week in the clinic, or for more dressy occasions, and finally took the time yesterday to shop for myself, while Raphaela was at Gan.  The saleswoman, a soft-spoken pregnant Russian woman, helped me choose outfits that appealed to me both in terms of color and style.  At one point, I came out of the changing room to get her opinion, and she said gently, "No, that doesn't work because it showcases your small problem areas."

Yes, you may groan and/or laugh. I certainly reacted that way.

"Small problem areas," like my little leftover belly bump, like my hips which have always been a bit wide; as both an objective Chiropractor and as a woman, I know that if I embrace a proper exercise regimen, they will resolve as they had in the past, before Raphaela was born, when I was working out consistently five days a week. In fact, I had been running up until the two weeks before my daughter came into the world and co-opted all my free personal time.

I have promised myself that elusive period of "after the Chagim" and after our trip to the States, I will set aside the time to tone my body and train for the 2013 Jerusalem Marathon.  I want to be able to look into the mirror and be happy and proud of my body, not to impress anyone else but for myself.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jerusalem March 2012

Last year, Raphaela (in stroller) and I participated in the short route of the Jerusalem March;  we both enjoyed the carnival afterward in Gan Saccher, though the day was dominated by the historic return of the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit to Israeli soil.

I woke up this morning with every intention to once again walk in the March.  I dropped Raphaela off at Gan and...decided that I was going to do nothing today.  Rather than obligate myself, I made of list of errands that could get done, if I felt like it.

I did not answer the phone for patients today.  I washed the car from the mud of the recent rain.  I went to the mall and bought myself a new Winter outfit.  I visited friends visiting from the States for the holidays.  I checked my email, folded some laundry and sat down for a quiet lunch.  I read a book about arms and armour.  I took care of myself and my house without the distraction of a toddler and without the pressure of the time schedule.

It was lovely, and bonus, Raphaela gets a more relaxed Mom this evening.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Yesterday, while shopping in the mall, Raphaela started to wander off, and as I attempted to pay, I shouted toward the door [in English], "Raphaela, come back here and wait for Mommy."  She shouted back [in Hebrew], "Don't yell at me," and the other adults in line laughed at her response, and her independent spirit. 

One woman came up to me and said, "Of course she wants to explore, she's a big girl."

(Indeed, she grows every day.  I measured her height for her birthday and found that she stands tall at a bit over three feet!)


Tonight my daughter told me that I was "muy muy bonita."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Swimming Lessons Reconsidered

Raphaela and I have been swimming together once a week, for the last two and a half years. We swim at the same pool in Jerusalem where Israel's Olympic athletes train from childhood.

At first her progress was remarkable, and I constantly marveled at her courage even as a baby.  But several months ago, when Raphaela was on the cusp of full fledged swimming and diving on her own, she froze for some as yet unknown reason, and her lessons became a half-hour session of "No!"

At home I would tell Raphaela to prepare for the pool, and receive a wildly enthusiastic response.  When we entered the water, I would watch the emergence of a broad smile on Raphaela's face.  Once, however, the actual class had begun, it became quite frankly a waste of time and money, week after week.

The teacher, whom I respect both as a person and as an experienced instructor, has attempted to pull Raphaela out of this rut, to no avail.  She has suggested that if no other solution can be found, that we take a break of several months;  a pressure free time where swimming is neither a chore nor an obligation. I am inclined to agree, and even take partial responsibility for a certain aspect of this setback;  I definitely feel that we would see higher achievement and motivation if there were another adult (husband, baby sitter, grandparent etc) in the water with her besides Mommy.

In fact, the initial goal of the lessons, ie to make Raphaela comfortable in the water, had been accomplished a long time ago.

If I am being honest with myself, as a former lifeguard and a lover of swimming, my frustration stems from a sub-conscious desire to see my daughter share this passion, and yes, to maybe some day train professionally and compete.  I know I must let go, and as a parent I must learn not to impose my dreams and fantasies upon my daughter.  Raphaela is her own person, she has her own map for her life, and I don't want to foil her destiny by playing out my secret desires through her.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Yesterday, on Erev Succot, while taking a walk throughout the neighborhood, Raphaela almost got run over by a silver car, right before my eyes. 

Our street, infamous for being impossibly narrow, is hardly fit to take cars in both directions and almost impossible to negotiate by sidewalk, upon which many of the neighbors regularly park said cars.  Drivers take the curve near our house at a dangerous speed, without necessarily paying attention to pedestrians.

I stood there, paralyzed, screaming "No! No! No!" from the deepest part of my soul, experiencing every parent's worse scenario.  Thank God, the driver saw Raphaela and swerved to the side, almost crashing into the man selling flowers for the holiday on the corner of our street.

In between my tears, I held Raphaela tight to my chest, explaining the dangers of cars and trucks, that she must never cross the street without Mommy, and that I love her so much and never want to see her get hurt.

My daughter seemed less traumatized by the event than her mother.  I must remember these feelings of terror and relief in those moments when Raphaela drives me toward insanity.

And so particularly on this day, when Raphaela turns three officially according to both the lunar and solar calendar, I want to thank God for sparing my daughter's life, and for bringing this light-filled joyous child into my life, thus saving me as well.