Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Love Thy Neighbor

Raphaela, imparting wisdom she has learned in Gan, with the theme of  "Love your neighbor..."

"Mommy, Rabbi Akiva says ' No Biting,' and that it's nice to share toys."


As a fairly transparent person, I 'trust' the readers of this blog with most of the details of our lives and with my feelings, and yet there are events and feelings that I do not share;  mostly because it is something that I myself cannot process.

If I were to summarize the last three weeks of my life, I would say that I have pushed beyond my own comfort zone, opened myself up to possibilities and felt extremely vulnerable...and have gotten bitten on the ass more times that I can count.  My personality and commitment preclude me performing a task or behaving only half-way, and so I put myself at greater emotional and physical risk.

Oh, I play a good game of acting like all is fine and dandy, that beyond the little things that characterize day-to-day with a toddler I function, most of the times happily.  But being a parent is hard, don't let anyone tell you otherwise, and a single mother with no family support system in the country is even harder. Some days are better, and some periods of time try the very core of my being. 

If I were being honest with myself, I would venture a guess that having immediate family in the country would not be as helpful as I might imagine, and about which I fantasize on a regular basis. 

A highly intelligent and independent business woman, an experienced and trained doctor falling victim to the failing global economic crisis, even harder, especially since I am the sole provider and wage earner in this house.

(Our new Finance Minister, the handsome and yet vacant-headed Yair Lapid, ran on a platform of easing the existence of the poor and the middle class in Israel. Meanwhile, one of his first acts include raising VAT, a move which will directly and most negatively impact the poor and middle class in Israel.  I will either have to raise my prices and lose clients, or keep the status quo office fees and pay more for everything else, leaving even less income in my pocket.)

My body image has also suffered a blow, with the recent break-up from my boyfriend and because quite simply, my abdominal area is hardly swimsuit ready.  So I could join a gym and start running and swimming again, but my concerns about our finances makes me feel like this membership represents a luxury, a privilege I cannot afford.  With a lack of reliable baby sitters, I would only be able to work out during the day when Raphaela attends Gan, and thus I would not enjoy myself and relax into the workout, because I would be thinking about the patients I am not seeing and the money I am not earning at that time in the gym.  To quote my sixth grade teacher from New York, "It's a vicious cycle." (Actually, if memory serves me correctly, my teacher was talking about head lice, but no matter.)

Then, last night, at the Bar Mitzvah of the son of a old and dear friend, Raphaela spent the first hour of the event making it difficult for me to carry on any uninterrupted adult conversation.  When she saw that we would not be leaving for home when she requested, during the beginning of the dancing, she spent five minutes throwing up on the floor, a stream of tomatoes and other appetizers she had eaten.  I think it even surprised her, the strength of will she employed to bring on the vomiting;  she said to me in wonder and amazement, "Mommy, a waterfall of tomatoes just came out of my mouth, how does that happen?"

Mission accomplished, Raphaela won, we left the Bar Mitzvah quickly, slipping out the side door because of my embarrassment and shame, with me feeling like I cannot hold it together as a mother or as a woman.

I am tired of the struggle.  I wish I had the luxury to choose something different, I wish I didn't feel so stuck and so frustrated, like such a failure.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Stuff is Stuff

Last night the two of us had dinner with friends of mine from China.  A non-Jewish seriously Zionist couple - one very large German Shepherd named Shalom, and their first baby is on the way - they travel extensively twice a year;  every trip ends up in Israel no matter what other place may be found on the agenda.  We met many years ago on a group tour of Petra.

This time their trip included Germany, the Holocaust tour of Poland, and Jerusalem.  They had generously bought a small gift for Raphaela from Poland, a whistle shaped like a sparrow which sounds like a bird when you put water inside and blow.  A ceramic whistle.

If you are a mother or father of young children, you can already anticipate the end of this story.

It took all of five minutes at home for the present to be dropped and broken, and much like Humpty Dumpty, all the King's horsemen and all the craft glue in  the world couldn't put it back together again.

I will admit it, inside I felt angry and disappointed. I started thinking, "Why can we not have beautiful and interesting things in the house before they get destroyed?" It reminded me of our cat Harry when he was little, when he wanted to get my attention he would jump on the high shelves and casually watch as anything breakable experienced gravity and smashed into several pieces.

Then I tried to calm myself down on the inside, so I would not yell at Raphaela. I reminded myself that she is only three and a half, that she still has no real sense of physics IE ceramic shatters.  I reminded myself that I love her, and that stuff is stuff, it is people that really count.

I sat down with her and explained that if someone gives you something special, you must be careful with it, because most times if it breaks Mommy cannot fix it. After this particular incident, she may or may not learn that actions and even accidents have consequences.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Second Class Single Mothers

Last month, the Israeli paper Maariv highlighted an essential flaw in the Bituach Leumi [Israeli Social Security] system:  their charter was written in the 1950's, long before the phenomenon of single mothers by choice because an accepted reality.  Practically speaking, it means that single mothers by choice and their children receive less benefits than women who are divorced or widowed, though we all pay the same amount into the fund on a monthly basis.

I have now personally experienced this flaw.  At the beginning of the year, Raphaela's Gan posted a list of all those families eligible for a discount in tuition;  divorced, widowed, student etc. If you could bring a letter from  your doctor proving that you suffered from chronic hiccups you got a discount.  No where on that list mentioned single mothers by choice, and so on the advice of the manager of the Gan, I put in a special request, stating that I have no family in the country and that I am solely responsible for financing our little family unit. I further stated that I saw no difference between myself and a divorced woman raising her children alone; in fact, even a divorcee gets some child support from her ex-husband.

Eight months later... the Board of the Gan informed me that they had refused my request, stating no particular reason other than, "Denied."  While I felt disappointment, the manager of the Gan was enraged and is determined to appeal their decision.  She asked me to sit with her this morning, so she could write a letter to the Chair of the Board, "a letter that will make then sob their heart out and give me some reduction in tuition."

I appreciate her support, though I hold no high hopes for the bureaucracy to change its mind.  The law on the books in Israel must catch up with the reality of the 21rst century family.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Thoughts for a Wednesday

Last night I had a most disturbing dream:  Raphaela and I were crossing an intersection in Teaneck, New Jersey, when she let go of my hand and started running ahead of me, in a way that clearly endangered her life.  She made it to the other side, but a white car hit another little boy and broke his leg, trying to avoid hitting my daughter.  As I stood and watched, I felt tremendous guilt, because somehow my child had led to this other boy's injury.

This morning, channeling my anxiety, I reviewed with Raphaela the entire pedestrian procedure IE how to cross the street, that she must hold Mommy's hand and that we only walk on the white lines.  I leave the interpretation to Freud.


From the New York Times this morning, an article entitled, "Unmarried, over 30 and proud of it," by Didi Kirsten Tatlow:  "...single Chinese women in their mid to late 20's have endured being called 'shengu,' or 'leftover women,' by relatives, by the state-run media and by society."  Apparently, the variation of the meaning of the word in Chinese is "victorious" or "successful."

There are 20 million more men under 30 than women in China, because of the ability to choose the gender of a fetus, and in most cases, to abort if parents are 'disappointed' that they have conceived a girl.

Sounds like a eugenics policy out of a science fiction movie.  And if 25 is past its shelf life in China, then I am ancient.


A woman called me at work today, explaining that her 13 year old daughter suffered from scoliosis, and asked if Chiropractic could help.  I answered that at this age and until the end of puberty, a lot of good could be accomplished, with a combination of Chiropractic adjustments, stretches and exercises at home, and monitoring.

Then the woman hesitated, before she added the information that her daughter was not like "other kids," but rather Special Needs, and did that affect her prognosis.  I assured the mother that I have worked successfully with both children and adults with special needs, and that in the long term it would not make a difference in my treatment.

The woman then hesitated again, and asked,

Mother:  Are you a religious woman?
Doc:  Why would you ask that?  What does that have to do with my professional credentials?
Mother:  My special needs daughter feels more comfortable around people who are religious.
Doc:  My personal observances are none of your business.  Whether or not I am religious, and whether or not that is relevant, I can tell you that I wear pants at work, if that offends you.  You can tell your daughter anything you want, if you think it will make the treatment more effective, but I am not going to dignify the question.

The woman than said she would get back to me, which means I will probably not hear from her ever again.

I have in fact helped children with Downs Syndrome and other special needs, and one thing I have consistently observed is that fact that these amazing human beings, no matter what their chronological age, behave in a way that is more open and more loving that most adults or kids.  In fact, they generally do not employ the selfish and misguided filters that roam through most of so-called civilized society.

If this 13 year old girl harbours a prejudice against the secular within Israel, it is only because her parents and environment have wrongfully instilled it, and to that I say, "Shame on you!  Shame on you!"

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dancing around the Question

It has been raining for the last two days in Jerusalem and around the country, and this morning on the way to Gan, Raphaela and I observed a slug (without its shell) squirming and squishing along the sidewalk at a rather quick pace, for a slug.

Raphaela asked me where the slug was going, and I replied that he was looking for a new shell, and that then he would go home to his Mommy.  She immediately added, "and his Daddy," after which I assured her that both the Mommy Slug and the Daddy Slug would be found at home, wherever that may be.

My daughter has completely entrenched herself in the "Why" phase of learning, and though she seems to have a deeper understanding of our family situation, I keep waiting for The Question IE "Who and where is my Daddy?"  I have rehearsed the response one million times in my head but thus far, Raphaela does not seem particularly concerned about the question, or the answer.

Monday, April 22, 2013

RIP Blub Blub

First,  Al the Cleaner Fish left this earthly plane, no more than one week after we brought the fish tank home.  I told Raphaela that Al went to the doctor because he was sick;  several weeks later we saw a tank of similar fish at the zoo, and I told Raphaela that Al had gotten better and was now living at the zoo with his friends and family.

Yesterday I noticed one of the other fish swimming upside down and discretely removed it from the tank before Raphaela noticed. I am hoping to get to the pet store some time today to replace that gold fish before she counts and sees that only three remain.

Recently Raphaela has been begging me to add an iguana to our menagerie.  ("Why?"  "Why not?")  I told her that with the cat and the fish and the birds who have built a nest in our window, we have quite enough animals for the moment.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

First Dental Check Up

Yesterday Raphaela had her first ever dental check up, because I thought she was ready and old enough to sit still for a few minutes.  Her apprehension expressed itself as we sat and waited for our turn, she took to jumping on the furniture and screaming with delight rather than her normal tone of laughter. 

The Pediatric Dentist, Dr. Amar had the golden touch; he smiled and spoke to her on her level, his examination was quick and painless.  Dr. Amar declared Raphaela in "great shape," and scheduled a follow up appointment in one week for Raphaela to get tooth-brushing lessons and a cleaning.  Best of all, my daughter got to choose a prize for her good behaviour and her excellent hygiene.

At one point, the assistant asked Raphaela if she knew how to count, and if she knew how many teeth she had in her mouth.  Raphaela put on her intense thinking face and answered quietly, "A lot."

[NB  Under my particular HMO, children get free dental care until the age of eight, and then the fee for maintenance visits and treatments are minimal. Pretty cool...]

Monday, April 15, 2013

Worlds Collide

What a thrill to see one of my teachers, Dr Tamar Ross, receive the honor of lighting one of the 12 torches in the 2013 Yom HaAtzmaut ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.  They described her as one of the most influential Jewish religious feminists of our generation.  She also happens to be the mother of one of the first Jewish Orthodox SMBC in the State of Israel; a mother of three, Dr Ross' daughter opened the door for so many other women to fulfill the dream of becoming a parent, without the traditional family structure.

As Raphaela and I watched the fireworks over Jerusalem, two explosions rocked the Boston Marathon finish line, killing three and wounding countless others. One other explosion, and two other undetonated incendiary devices were found within the city of Boston, as well as a suspicious fire at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library.  My parents live near Heartbreak Hill, the most difficult aspect of the race toward the end of the route; my mother called the terrorist attack "the end of the Age of Innocence."

Welcome to our daily experience here in 65 year old Israel.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Purim Redux

On Purim, because of the weeks of hype from her teachers and the country and her mother, Raphaela spun into a frenzy when she put on her costume for the Gan holiday party, and it resulted in crying and trauma for all involved.

Hoping to learn from experience, for Yom HaZikaron/HaAtzmaut [Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror going into Israeli Independence Day], I did not mention wearing clothing of the blue and white variety.  We did not discuss it other than mentioning that soon it would be Israel's 65th birthday.

This morning, I laid out two separate outfits for her and told her to choose one that would be appropriate for the special day at Gan, both sets of the variation on blue and white.  Raphaela selected one outfit, put it on and then immediately started undressing and saying that she would not wear this just because all the kids would be doing so.

I love that she emulates her mother, that Raphaela seems mostly unaffected by peer pressure and likes to live outside the box, but I had had enough of this particular power struggle. I calmly explained to her that sometimes we do things that initially we might not like, but in the end we find ourselves enjoying the experience.  I also explained to her that today and tomorrow represent the most special days for Israel, the place we live, and that it is fun and respectful to wear blue and white, just like the colors of the Israeli flag. I finished off my stern discussion by saying that if she rejected her clothing, she would stay home, not go to Gan and see her friends, and not participate in Israel's birthday party.

Then I walked out of the room and did a primal scream on the other end of the house.

Within minutes, Raphaela came over to me and agreed to wear the second outfit I had chosen, a pair of white leggings and a blue shirt with a white cat design.  The cat had a cupcake, which Raphaela explained was the cake in honor of Israel's birthday.

Crisis averted, though I feel that I need guidance on how to teach Raphaela to be herself, to love herself and her decision process, and yet understand that society and friendships serve a purpose as well.  While I have taken the less-traveled and more difficult route, I wish an easier journey for my daughter. 

Magical Parenting

Until the age of two, Raphaela actively rejected pacifiers.  When we moved somewhat suddenly to the new apartment, she found the drawer with 'baby things,' and started asking for a pacifier before bed time, her comfort reaction to this particular change.

Right before Pessach this year, I explained to Raphaela that the pacifiers contained chametz and therefore had to hide during the holiday;  she would have to learn how to fall asleep without it.  Magically, the pacifiers have disappeared since then, and Raphaela has managed to fall asleep every night like the big girl that she is.

She has only asked me once, and I replied, "Raphaela, you don't wear diapers anymore, even at night, correct?  You dress yourself in the morning, right?  So you are not a baby anymore and you don't need a pacifier!"

Instead, Raphaela has taken to waking up in the middle of the night to "check if the sun is still sleeping," and then returns to bed.  Progress of sorts...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Trials at Wounding with Words

Having gone to a religious all-girls school until high school, I can attest to the fact that kids are mean, and girls are meaner.   They were especially mean to a child who was viewed as different because her parents got divorced when you didn't have rates of marriage dissolution at 60% of the population.  I was that person who was taller than the rest, more shy than the rest and more intelligent than most, and I had trouble developing a thick skin until later in life, at Barnard College, when I realized that I was actually one of the cool kids.

I just don't remember it starting so early...

When I have said "no" to Raphaela or she doesn't agree with a statement I have made, she will pucker up her lips, squint her eyes and say, "I am not your friend anymore."  To which I reply calmly, "OK, I am still your Mommy and I will always love you."

This morning, running late and Raphaela refused to get dressed and I started to lose my temper, Raphaela said, "I want a new Mommy."  And then she clarified, "I want Thea's Mommy [her current BFF] to be my Mommy instead."  Again, I ignored the statement and said, "OK, time to get dressed and go to Gan."

When we arrived at Gan, several of the children were sitting at a table and sharing the various snacks their parents had sent with them in the morning.  They chanted at another girl, "You don't get any snacks from us and you don't get any candies."  For some reason there was no teacher in the room at that moment, and the girl who had been left out and taunted started welling up with tears;  at that point out of pity perhaps, or compassion, one of the children at the table got up and gave her a corn flake.

Yes, kids are mean, and I hope that Raphaela learns to deal with it sooner than I did.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Yom HaShoah 2013

Every year I watch the ceremony at Yad VaShem in Jerusalem,  in memory of the six million who were murdered by the Nazis in World War II.  Every year I cry, but not for the reasons you might think.

I cry in awe of the bravery of the Jews who left their parents, who jumped off the Death Trains or hid in piles of dead bodies, who assumed false identities so they could help from the outside or joined the Partisans in the forest, never to see their families again.

I cry in wonderment of the Righteous Among the Gentiles, those who took in wounded Jews, healed them and hid them at the risk of their own lives.  These courageous people saved one man or woman, thus allowing them to marry, and see their family flourish. 

Save one person, save the world.

I cry in joy when the six Holocaust survivors represent their dwindling population and light the six torches, because they stand there alive and actively living, with the fire of life handed to them by one of their grandchildren, in the State of Israel.  One of the torch bearers said it best last night, with a twinkle in his eyes;  that after all he did to survive the Nazi atrocity, he sits in Israel happy, surrounded by children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. 

This is the Jewish victory. Never forget, never again!

I also feel extremely lucky and blessed after bearing witness to these stories, after honoring these souls.  After the program last night, I could not help but tip-toe into Raphaela's room and watch her sleep, knowing that she is safe with me, and in the Land of the Jewish People.

This year, as we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, we remind that world that the Jews did fight back, that we were not then nor are we today "lambs to the slaughter."

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Magic Moment

...When Everything in the Universe Goes "Click!"

Raphaela has started early reading skills under my guidance, and she has most of the phonics down pat.  Yesterday I was wearing a "Fox" sweatshirt, and thought it might be interesting to see if Raphaela could sound out the word.  (Fox is the Israeli equivalent of the American Gap store.)

And indeed, I watched as the gears in her brain spun behind her eyes, as she sounded out each letter and came to her first full word, read all by herself.  I jumped for joy, hugged her and saw her own pride and sense of accomplishment as her face glowed with pleasure, at the idea that someday she may even read entire books by herself.

We are a long way from full reading, lord knows that the English language contains more exceptions than most other on the planet, but I will never forget that look on Raphaela's face, and the knowledge that this little creature that came from me is capable of amazing things.

Focal Laryngitis

Since the end of Pessach, I have been suffering from what I am calling "Focal Laryngitis."  I don't have a fever or a runny nose, I simply feel like my entire throat is covered in some crap that prevents me from talking, and causes me to violently cough every time I try to speak and complete a sentence.  My GP assures me it represents the combination of my seasonal allergies, a virus Raphaela must have picked up from Gan, and the freakish sand storm weather that has visited Israel in the last week.

This situation has caused major communication problems with my daughter, who hears my scratchy voice (I like to think of it more as sexy...) and thinks that I am angry at her.  Over the last week and a half, I have answered this question more times than I can count:

Mommy:  (Scratch scratch cough cough)
Raphaela: Are you my friend?
Mommy : (Nodding head furiously, while coughing)
Raphaela:  Are you angry at me?
Mommy:  (In a whisper)  Raphaela, I am your friend and your Mommy.  I love you, but it hurts me very much when I talk.
Raphaela:  (Not believing me) Why?
Mommy:  Why what?
Raphaela:  Why does your throat hurt?

The morning version of this conversation goes like this:

Mommy:  (cough cough cough)
Raphaela:  Mommy, are you still sick?  Will you be able to talk today?
Mommy:  (In a whisper) I don't know, we will have to wait and see.
Raphaela:  Are you my friend?

As a Chiropractor, I make a lousy patient when I am feeling ill, and the last thing I want is for Raphaela to take it personally.  There were at least several days last week that Raphaela arrived at Gan pouting and withdrawn because of my inability to communicate with the spoken word.

Then, to add to the fun, one day last week when I sat in bed resting and slightly bored, I messaged the guy I thought has been my boyfriend for the last several months.  The message read, "Resting in bed, thinking about you."

Silly me!  (Mental picture for your head of me saying "D'oh!" and smacking myself on the forehead)  Several days later, the man/boy called me to tell me that our "tryst" is starting to feel "too much like a real relationship," which he doesn't want.  Unable to truly speak my mind and my heart, I croaked through the phone call and hung up, more dejected than ever.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reality Check

Raphaela, whose sleep schedule was decimated by the holiday, sang and chatted to herself for almost one hour after being tucked into bed.

I came into the room and asked why she was not quietly asleep, and my child replied that she was "just talking to Bunny, " her oldest and most cherished transitional object.

In response, I affected my most patient and sweet voice possible after a long and difficult day at work;  and suggested to Bunny that he close his eyes, that Raphaela needs a good night's sleep, and that Bunny should not keep her awake.

Raphaela then adopted her Bunny voice and answered most practically, in her doll's name: "I am not an actual animal, I am just a doll. I can't really talk and I certainly can't close my eyes!"

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Euphoria of the Day After

I spent part of last night returning the kitchen and the house to post-Pessach normal.  This morning, Raphaela woke up and  she first noticed the absence of tape from various drawers and cabinets.  She ran over to me, waving a (chametz) spoon, and with utter joy in her voice, she said, "Mommy, now I can open the drawer and get...spoons!"

About five minutes later, she discovered that her play dough, which had gone into hiding over the holiday, had magically reappeared in her crafts box.  Again, overwhelmed by the find, she carefully placed each packet of dough onto her play table as a grin washed across her face.

After I came out of the shower, Raphaela came over to me with a very serious and concerned look on her face;  she needed to clarify the status of ice cream cones.  "Cones are chametz, correct?'  she asked.

"Yes," I answered, "but now that Pessach is over, we can have ice cream with cones instead of a bowl."

"Hooray!  That's what I would like for breakfast please!"

(For the record, she did not in fact have an ice cream cone for breakfast, she had coconut cookies left over from the holiday...)