Sunday, March 31, 2013

As must be expected, the human body waits until it knows that you do not have pressing commitments, and then hits you with the tsunami of illness.

Raphaela must have brought home a virus from somewhere, because she suffered for one day and I have been hoarse and speech-less since yesterday.  And despite the fact that we did not do any particularly rigorous trips other than walking to friends for meals, I have a right proper sciatica radiating up and down my right leg.

Needless to say, I have not slept well for the last few days, and with two days of Pessach to go, I have very little time to get over this and return to the routine of Gan and clinic work.  Meanwhile, my daughter and I are getting quite adept at a crude version of sign language.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Day of Miracles

Our string of fantastical events started yesterday afternoon, when I finally convinced Raphaela to take a nap so I could rest as well.  Unfortunately, at some point during the day when I hadn't noticed, Raphaela had unplugged the clock in my room, and three hours later, I woke up not knowing that in fact it was 5:30 pm, the holiday had already come in, and we had less than 30 minutes to bathe and get dressed, and walk to seder.

Raphaela rejected the elaborate princess dress I had bought for her, and with so little time I did not argue.  As many other parents have told me, you have to pick your battles,  and that point, any dress with tights would do.

Predictably, that half hour included trying to convince Harry to come inside the house before we left.  He gets somehow injured every Pessach, and I was not going to risk it again this year.

TO THE STROLLER, BATMAN!  Having no time to feed Raphaela proper food, her pre-seder snack consisted of potato chips, which she ate while I pushed the stroller up the hills of Jerusalem.  We were joining a family who live near Talpiyot, honestly a fair distance from our house, and we walked in what felt like 40 years through the desert; despite my abject fear of tardiness, we stopped along the way several times to wish well to friends also walking along the street.

Apparently I am in better shape than I imagined - ANOTHER MIRACLE!* - and we made it in record time; though before seder I did borrow some deodorant from one of the teenagers in the house.

The hostess and her family welcomed us and both Raphaela and I genuinely enjoyed ourselves.  There was just the right ratio of talking, singing and eating, and children of all ages in the house. My daughter the fashionista and the early-onset teenager was especially fascinated by the "big girls" and their extensive nail polish collection.

Raphaela stayed awake, charming and alert the entire night.  Exhausted and with a wet stroller (don't ask), we arrived home around one am, and MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, for the first time in my daughter's life, we slept in.  Amazingly, the child who has woken up between 5-5:30 am since her birth, agreed to stay in bed until glorious ten o'clock.

Truly, the Prophet Elijah brought blessings last night at seder.

* Reference:  the Monty Python Classic, Life of Brian

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Sights and Sounds of Pessach

For all of the Jewish holidays, Israel creates an environment in which all citizens can appreciate each aspect of the preparation and celebration.  Secular or religious, 86% of the country will sit with their family at a seder this evening, and only 36% of Israelis plan on having bread items in their house this coming week. 

On Pessach it's the boiling of the cutlery on every street corner, with their industrial-sized vats and their special gloves.  It's the small street fires for the burning of the chametz, and the prayer that we all whisper each year, "May the zealous keepers of the commandments remember that the garbage bins are made of plastic and should NOT be set on fire."

Then there are the restaurants and cafes that convert themselves into a Kosher for Passover facility, so I can still have my cup of coffee and pastry every morning.  The flower vendors work overtime, as well as the garbage men.

It's the people on the street who cheerfully wish passers by a "Happy Holiday," and the cashiers who share stories of their own family's seder, as you stand on line to pay for that one last item you forgot to buy the last three times you went to the supermarket.  The market looks like it is undergoing construction, with all non-Pessach items covered up, hibernating until the week ends and our diets return to normal.

The hum of vacuum cleaners follow you wherever you go.

Using the opportunity for spring cleaning as well, there has not been one morning that I have not seen some great item on the wall next to our building, a perfectly good toy or furniture that someone has "donated' to the street, to be adopted by another worthy family.  Several days ago, while picking up Raphaela from Gan, I saw a child's bike, complete with training wheels, sitting on the side of the road.  I told myself to take it home if it was still there when we left to go home;  ten minutes later someone had already swiped it.

Wishing everyone a joyous holiday, and try not to eat too much matza!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Kitniyot Liberation Front

I see my dreams revealed, on Facebook.

A new group this year, The Kitniyot Liberation Front, states that "Specifically on this holiday, when during the time the Temple was standing the pascal sacrifice was eaten together, it's proper to try to reduce what divides different communities."

Hear hear, I have been fighting that particular windmill for years.

The Ultra Orthodox contingent of course blames the movement of the "younger generation" for exhibiting reactionary anti-halachic behaviour.

Why should this night be different than any other night?

Prelude to Pessach IV

Raphaela has been enthusiastically helping me clean the house and do last minute errands all day.  Her Gan trained her well, Raphaela has embraced a clean house as her mission.

We'll see how long that lasts, and how many more years I have of eager help.  Meanwhile I am enjoying spending the time with her and appreciating that she wants to be around me, as we wipe counters and vacuum and  sing together to her new favorite recording artist, Peter Gabriel.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Prelude to Pessach III

Yesterday my cleaning person and I scrubbed and dusted,  my house was sparkling for Pessach and it made me happy.

This morning the stunning weather prompted me to open all the windows and hang my laundry on the line.

Some time this morning while I was out on errands, the Sharav, the 11th plague rolled into Jerusalem.  The winds were so strong that they grounded President Obama's helicopter and delayed his return flight to the United States.

The whirlwind of sand turned my pristine home into the beach; every time I breathe I feel like I am chewing sand.  At least it prepares me for eating matza on Monday night at the seder.

And if it does rain within the next two days, it will rain mud on the car that I washed yesterday.

Who says that G-d doesn't have a sense of humor?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Prelude to Pessach II

Every morning as we walk to Gan, Raphaela and I pass by our neighbors beautifully manicured garden, and we look at the colorful array of flowers:  snap dragons, pansies and daisies.  Particularly on Friday, when the Shabbat flower seller sets up at the corner of our house, Raphaela marvels at all the choice of flowers, and carefully chooses what shall adorn our house for the week.

Usually it is lilies or roses, last week it was violets and today she chose daisies.  It was my grandmother who carefully tended her garden, her bird feeders and her squirrel feeders, she taught me the name of all those flowers while I helped her pull weeds and trim the rose bushes.

I don't know what moved me today, watching Raphaela embrace her life with such joy and simplicity, preparing for Pessach, or simply enjoying a cup of coffee and a piece of cake at the bakery on Palmach on a sunny Jerusalem morning.  I think maybe it was me, taking stock of my life and realizing how lucky I am, how blessed.  I think it also started with memories of childhood Pessach seder at my grandparents' house, the whole family (almost 25 people and one bathroom!) crowding into their New England colonial to celebrate together;  the boy grandchildren in the basement, arranged like a dormitory, the girls in the den upstairs, all our family and guests at the seder.  My grandmother's fantastic cooking, with baked goods so delicious that you could not imagine it was allowed on the holiday.

I know that it is me remembering my grandmother, my surrogate mother during many difficult periods in my life, and me missing my grandmother that made me all of a sudden start crying as I carried my groceries home.  Her presence has been overwhelming me all day.

I miss my Bubby, I am sad that Raphaela will never have the chance to know her and read with her the way I did. I think they would have gotten along like long lost sisters, cooking together in the kitchen or gardening or discussing art and music;  my Bubby even managed to make banal errands like the post office or the supermarket an adventure.  I am sad that Raphaela will not have the opportunity to bond with her family in cramped quarters over the Pessach seder.

I wonder what she would think of my life, and the child who amazes me and brings me joy every day.

 I regret that I never fulfilled a secret dream, to send my grandmother tickets to Italy and to take her on vacation; she worked so hard in life, barely slept, and suffered so much as a child, and she deserved to be treated like a princess if only for a short while.

Chag Sameach Bubby, I know that you are happy where ever your soul may be, and I know that you are free.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Prelude to Pessach I

Yesterday Raphaela's Gan led a virtual seder for the children, taking them through the story and the ritual and songs, and all the varied food items they could expect next Monday night.  They also sent them home with an astounding "Seder Kit," complete with a pillow (for leaning), a cup for wine and a little bottle of grape juice, a kid-friendly Hagaddah and a model of Moses in the Basket.

This morning I was talking to Raphaela and she said to me, "I don't like Pessach anymore."  Surprised, given her enthusiasm of the past few days for the holiday, I asked her to explain.  Raphaela answered that she doesn't like potatoes, and she doesn't want to eat them at seder or for the rest of the week.

Ah, the Ashkenazi potato conundrum.  I assured her that there would be no force-feeding of potatoes, and the day got just a bit brighter.

(I guess we will not be attending the Pessach Potato Festival this year.  And no, I am not imagining that event, it exists...)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hadassah Eye Exam

A year after Raphaela's eye exam, as part of the larger investigation of her late walking, we returned to Hadassah Hospital this afternoon for her follow-up exam.  The doctor was running 45 minutes late, and I found that disturbing for a Pediatric Opthamologist with a waiting room full of active and over-tired children.  (As a Chiropractor, I hate making my patients wait even five minutes past the scheduled time, especially those who arrive with younger ones.)

Ultimately, Raphaela was examined and re-examined by both Dr. Veronica and Dr. Hadass, and they both came to the same conclusion:  Raphaela has 20/30 vision with astigmatism.  Practically it means that before she reaches the First Grade she will most surely need eye glasses, since the astigmatism is atypical for a child her age.

The good news?  The astigmatism is the same measurement in both eyes and is still small enough so as not to be considered clinically significant, an emergency.  Dr. Hadass felt comfortable enough with the situation to recommend that we wait one year to start the process of correction with glasses.

AND Raphaela got a Barbie sticker from the doctor, possibly the best part of the visit.  We are very into Barbie lately, and when Raphaela enters her teens and starts going to the mall with her friends, my credit card will be crying fashionista tears.

I love my daughter, and will love her no less if we must find her lovely fashionable eye wear. Some small part of me feels disappointed that now she cannot become a fighter pilot in the Israeli army.

 Her clear vision represents the key to her growth and confidence, and most certainly her ability to excel in school.  I suppose on some level I blame myself for having given her that genetic inheritance; I needed glasses and then contact lenses from age 12, though my astigmatism only appeared as an adult, after I gave birth to Raphaela.

After our hospital adventure, we took a bus back towards the center of town (the bus, another adventure!), where we had a light dinner (dinner downtown for the first time ever, another adventure!).  Because of the traffic hassles due to the secret meetings of the new Secretary of State John Kerry, Raphaela and I started walking.  For a kid who started only at 20 months, she did a phenomenal job, walking skipping and jumping from the center of town of Jerusalem, down Aza Road and all the way the home;  that route can take up to 45 minutes at a decent pace, and Raphaela accomplished it like a pro.

We will be walking more than usual for the next three days, when President Obama arrives and shuts down most of the streets of Jerusalem, five days before Pessach...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Woman Plans, G-d Laughs

With the park injury behind us and the wound beginning to heal, wouldn't you know it, Raphaela came home with an awful gash beneath her left eye, inflicted by another girl in her class known to be more aggressive than most.  Apparently Raphaela was minding her own business when this girl came over and slashed her;  if we were in high school I would have tell my daughter, "Oh, she is jealous of you..." or something to that effect. And in fact, the wound from this Wolverine child is deeper and even more serious than the one from the park on Shabbat.

I spoke to her teacher, who basically told me some version of "Kids will be kids" and then proceeded to assure me that Raphaela was not the instigator (because that makes me feel better how?) and that she will heal. "Thank G-d it barely missed her eye etc. etc."

Disturbed by the vicious randomness of the attack, I asked how the teacher handled the incident with the group at large, and she answered that used the opportunity to give a lecture to the entire class about proper behaviour and the ban on hitting.  Then she reminded me that this is a "normal" part of the life of a toddler in nursery.

Later this morning, as I started cleaning my kitchen for Pessach, the apartment sprung a gas leak, one which was so asphyxiating that after three hours with all the doors and windows open I still could not breathe properly.  So instead of finishing up my holiday chores, taking care of patients, and going on my intended shopping trip, here I am writing this blog, waiting for the gas company to arrive "sometime today..." and hopefully before Obama arrives for his brief and badly-timed visit to Israel on Wednesday. 

I am most thankful, however, that this dangerous leak occurred after I took Raphaela to Gan and NOT in the middle of the night, when Raphaela and I may not have noticed it, with deadly consequences.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Victorian Values

Over Shabbat, I was rummaging through drawers and found a toy I had bought (for myself) years ago, from the Metropolitan Museum in New York:  a large book that when folded out, reveals an exquisitely detailed two-story eight-room Victorian doll house.  Over the years I have collected miniatures from all over the world for the doll house I never had as a girl.

I wondered if Raphaela was old enough to appreciate this toy, and whether her hands were gentle enough to play with the cut out figures that accompany it;  I decided to take the risk, especially because at that moment my daughter was approaching the threshold of boredom and destruction.

She immediately fell in love with the book, carefully placing the mother (holding a handkerchief), father (mustached, holding a newspaper) and the two little girls in the family unit.  The set also included a cut out of a nanny, dressed sternly with a bun in her hair and book in her arms.  When it came to dinner time for the family, Raphaela sat them at the elaborate dinner table and then said, "Why are there only four place settings?  Where is the nanny supposed to sit and eat her food?"

I hesitated to explain issues of class, that the "staff" is not welcome to join the family at intimate events; as a value system, I am the last to encourage division and snobbish omission.  I tried to gloss over the issue by placing the nanny at the table, saying that they must have forgotten to set another place setting.

Raphaela paused for a moment, took the figure of the nanny into the Conservatory, and said, "It's OK, she wanted to read her book anyway."

Friday, March 15, 2013

Nayot Park

On Friday night after dinner, Raphaela had energy to burn;  since it was still so warm outside, I took her for a walk and we ended up at the park near our house.  Unfortunately, the Municipality of Jerusalem has not invested sufficiently in the lighting of the area, and as it got darker, Raphaela hit her head against one of the metal beams of the climbing facility.  There was blood and bruising, and I picked her with the intention of rushing her home to better examine the injury.

(In the pitch dark, with a small flash light...) An Arab family had set up a small barbecue at one of the picnic tables nearby, and they invited the two of us to sit with them while Raphaela applied some ice to her nose.  Their hospitality did not end there, they also gave the two of us drinks and began to insist that we share their feast with them.

I politely declined, stating that we had already eaten and that I really wanted to get Raphaela home to see if we needed to get to the Emergency Room.  They understood, and as we started walking slowly, one of the women came over to me and gave me two pita sandwiches, with humus and hamburgers, "for the road."

(I do love and respect the gift of food they offered, though in the end we did not eat it for my own reasons of Kosher.)

I thanked her profusely for her generosity, and felt humbled by the experience; it reminded me that above and beyond all the boxes in which we put ourselves, our Jewish neighbors and our Arab cousins, behind all the politics stands real families with simple aspirations.  Some of them are in fact kind people who simply want to make a decent living and support their family, have a nice meal and watch their kids play in the park on a warm night in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, we arrived home and I managed to stop the bleeding, I purposely put Raphaela in my bed and did not sleep all night, listening to her breathe and making sure there were no immediate and serious complications from her wounds.  First thing tomorrow morning I plan on calling the Municipality and giving them an earful.  It is absolutely irresponsible to not provide lighting in a public park - said the paranoid New Yorker with memories of Central Park - not only for the children but also for the adult runners like me who use that pathway at all hours of the morning and evening.  If our taxes don't contribute to citizens' safety, where is the money going?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Plague on Your House

Raphaela has started learning about Pessach in school, the classic songs and of course the story of the ten plagues and the Exodus from Egypt.  Already a champion of the imagination, the particular plague of "boils" has captured her interest, and in fact, has caused a certain level of anxiety.

Raphaela has become very concerned that she will be punished with boils.  (As a mother in the Israeli school system, I am much more afraid of lice actually...)

I explained to my daughter that the people who hurt the Israelite slaves in Egypt suffered from the plagues, and that we can feel safe.  My assurances didn't stop Raphaela from waking me up in the middle of the night, asking me about the "bad people and the boils."

This morning her mood shifted, and Mr. Nice Boils has joined her menagerie of imaginary friends.  Mr. Nice Boils does not make anyone itchy.  I admire the sentiment, making a friend of your enemy and conquering your fears;  perhaps Raphaela has a future in diplomacy.

Regardless of her new attitude toward the dreaded plague, I told her nursery teachers the story as well, just in case the topic came up during the course of the day.  Her teacher reminded me that Raphaela's creativity is an amazing blessing, and then laughed, saying, "By the time we get to the splitting of the Sea, the boils will be forgotten."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Invited to the Ball, Briefly

Normally, each morning Raphaela and I have a conversation that goes something like this:

Mommy:  Gan sounds like so much fun, can I come to Gan with you?
Raphaela:  No, it is MY Gan.
Mommy:  (pretending to be sad)
Raphaela:  (firmly) Mommy, you have work and I go to Gan.

This morning for some reason I found favor, and Raphaela told me, "Mommy, you don't have to work today. I want you to come with me to Gan today and stay and play with me."

Of course I was thrilled at the invitation, though I knew that I could not play hooky from the clinic; but as soon as we got to Gan, Raphaela saw her BFF and forgot about me.  She sat down next to her friend, sharing the waffles I had brought for her breakfast, and telling her what a great Mommy she has, how much she loves me.

I can live with that.



It's a deliciously evil word, one which I use sparingly because of its negative connotations.  But it jumped into my head today, when I heard that the Montessori Gan Raphaela attended in Jerusalem for two years (one year too many) will be closing after this school year, as a result of horrific management and an abysmal business model.  The Gan that belittled and manipulated me as a parent, the Gan that treated my daughter like an invalid, they will no longer to be able to harm other children under their care.  They cannot get staff people to work for them, and they cannot get parents to sign up and pay their exorbitant and undeserved fees.

I'd better stop before I start really enjoying myself. I can only hope that the Head Nursery Teacher, whose personal responsibility it is for the failure of her program, learns something from this.

Karma, yeah, that's another word that popped into my head today.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Toward Independence

On this, International Women's Day, I am proud to report that this morning Raphaela put on her own socks, her jacket (using the "Flip" method) and finished off her achievements by applying her own lip gloss.

A set of life skills and a feeling of accomplishment are the best gifts I can give Raphaela as a child and as a woman.  Today it's socks, tomorrow, The World!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

With all the pre-Pessach sales, and with Raphaela growing taller every day, I decided to buy her shoes for the Spring going into Summer.  Not wanting her to miss any school, I traced her bare feet this morning before we left the house.

At the store, I sheepishly presented the foot impressions to the saleswoman, who immediately handed me a pair of scissors and assured me that "this happens here almost every day."  Raphaela's virtual feet tried on several pairs of shoes, and I felt like a successful member of the Busy Moms Club.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Baby Steps

Haaretz reported today that the court ruled in favor of a single woman who in 2009 was fired from her job as a teacher in a national-religious school because she became pregnant through IVF.  During the hearings, the school argued that this teacher set a negative example to the students by representing a non-traditional family life, though the halacha and several prominent Israeli Orthodox Rabbis supported her choice.

The courageous legal decision, the first of its kind within Israel, stated that "the right to be a parent...human dignity and freedom" superseded the rights of the religious program.

Bravo!  May we continue to see acceptance of all types of families within the mosaic of Israeli society.

Pessach, Bah Humbug

Quite often in the last few days I have been asked to define my particular dislike of the upcoming holiday of Pessach.

Is it the obsession for Spring Cleaning beyond the halachic guidelines?  Not really, I don't get trapped in that phenomenon.
Is it the internal division that I feel the food issues of the holiday create?  A bit.  There are enough unfortunate elements that divide the Jewish people, and I do believe that we should all be able to sit at one table and eat together on Pessach.  Kitniyot [legumes, forbiden to Ashkenazim], Gebrachts [Are you allowed to eat matza balls in your chicken soup? Only G-d seems to know], bah humbug.

A pateint told me yesterday that according to the halacha, I must buy food for our cat Harry that is Kosher for Passover, though it need not be Kosher per se.  I have seen this special food, at least double the price and it's like feeding your cat Pringles for the week.

But today I discovered the true reason that this holiday sets me into a tailspin of anxiety and Christmas-like depression:  every year I must figure out where Raphaela and I will spend seder, a completely family-centered event in a country where I have no real immediate family members.

 For the past several years, we have attended a wonderful seder at neighbors;  today they informed me that "it will not work out this year, sorry."  I am trying very hard not to take it personally, perhaps they plan on traveling this March to children who live outside Jerusalem, or some other factor that is perfectly reasonable and has nothing to do with me.  That insecure part of me immediately started to wonder if it something I did last year at seder that we are not invited this year.

I am starting to even feel physically ill at the thought that Raphaela and I will not have an invitation for seder, and I dread the activity of going through my list of friends and acquaintances, asking/begging to be included and hearing "no" more often than I wish.  For part of this day I was even considering calling my travel agent to see if she could arrange decently priced plane tickets for the United States, two weeks before one of the busiest travel seasons of the year.

If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is the idea that people would be nice to us out of pity.
There, it's official, I hate Pessach.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Yesterday, while standing in line at the supermarket, I noticed Raphaela fiddling with the candy bars that they inevitably place to entice children and torture parents.

I was about to open my mouth with a firm, "No, we are not buying candy," when I realized that Raphaela had not intended to ask.  Instead, it bothered her that the candy had been scattered willy-nilly on the shelf, and I watched as she put them in order in a perfectly straight line.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Way with Words

Temporarily forgetting the word "library,"  Raphaela asked when we were going to the "story store."

Watching our goldfish take a nap today, they lined up in a row and seemed to stop moving, fixated on a point at the wall.  I asked Raphaela what she thought they fish were doing, and she answered that they were "watching Water TV."

Friday, March 1, 2013

Digital Detox

I have long bemoaned the negative effect of modern technology on the modern human, not just in terms of dating but also in terms of our general ability to communicate honestly and face-to-face.  (Ironically, I am writing about what is now being called "Internet Addiction Disorder" on-line to a virtual audience.)

Haaretz recently released some more alarming statistics that only justify my stubborn Luddite stance:
44% of Americans sleep with their mobile device next to their bed, for fear of "missing something"
46% of Israeli children aged 12-14 watch online videos daily
11% of Israelis have been defined as addicted to surfing the web
75% of secular Israelis and 23% of Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel surf the web every day
25% of owners of mobile devices answer phone calls in the middle of sex

The article explains that it is most difficult to "kick the Internet habit...because we live in a society based on instant gratification and on fear...[we think that] maybe we can live forever, if only we create for ourselves a sufficiently rich and distinctive virtual identity."

The author then makes the most compelling argument of all in favor of an all-around Digital Detox program:  "If we know that we can document everything all the are we supposed to enjoy the moment?...If a tree falls in the forest and no one photographs it for Instagram, did it really fall?"

This program is in fact based upon the Jewish model of the Sabbath, in which all humans disconnect from the net for one day per week;  it also recommends withdrawal during the rest of the week, including banning phones from meals and personal encounters.  Apparently, a solid hug replaces the hormone rush that Internet addicts experience from tech abuse.

I spent much of my New York pre-Israel life engaged in planning and anticipating, that I could not live IN THE NOW.  And while I am certainly guilty of a certain level of over-documenting mine and my child's life, I have vastly improved my ability to shed that need to control and enjoy the smaller moments of the adventure.