Thursday, October 30, 2014

Banning Dr. Phil

With about five minutes to spare before I had to pick up Raphaela from kindergarten, I turned on the television and literally, out of approximately 400 channels, there was nothing on worth watching.  And so I was stuck with Dr. Phil, whom I have boycotted since I watched one of his programs in which he made a mockery of modern Judaism, with the help of the self-promoting sex Rabbi, Shmuly Boteach.

On this particular program today, a married couple sat with the doctor, explaining that recently their two older children had begun torturing the family cat on a regular basis.  The mother, with a stone face that betrayed little human emotion, admitted that she felt slightly concerned at this development, since historically speaking, animal mutilation represents the first step toward a successful career in the psycho serial killer industry.

The father shrugged his shoulders, saying that he was not particularly concerned since "Kids will be kids...and besides, at least they are not running around the house breaking things."

Because apparently in 2014 in the United States, breaking stuff would be more worrisome to parents than the mistreatment of  vulnerable living beings.

The ban on Dr. Phil has just been reinstated.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy Snacking

Israeli nursery schools have this wonderful concept of "Aruchat Eser," roughly translated from the Hebrew as the "10:00 morning meal," a snack to get the kids through the arduous task of playing and learning and paying attention.

Most parents happily pack a sandwich and a fruit, and maybe a granola bar and the job is done.  Except that my daughter has never and continues to not eat sandwiches, and so I must become creative.  Yogurt and rice cakes instead of bread, cut up vegetables as a side dish, and no granola bars allowed, since one of the girls in her class is deathly allergic to almost everything.

Yesterday when I was packing Raphaela's lunch, she told me that her teachers had instructed me to pack bread and "something different than the usual."  First of all, getting a message from the kindergarten teacher via kids is like playing broken telephone, and I am skeptical that they would actively criticize my parenting skills to my child.

But Raphaela insisted, until I glared down at her [because I had nothing better to do in the morning than fight with her] and said, "Who is your Mommy?  Who has been feeding you these past five years, plus the time you were in my stomach?"

No reaction.

I continued, "My dear, if I give you a sandwich in your lunch box, what is the likelihood that it will come home untouched at the end of the day?  Do you even like sandwiches?"

"No Mommy."

"OK then, how about then you tell your teachers, very politely of course, that you do not eat bread and sandwiches because you just don't like it. If you say it nicely and yet firmly, they will hear you and stop bothering me."

Sure enough, this morning while getting her Aruchat Eser ready, Raphaela quietly informed me that there was no need to think about packing bread.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Raphaela Book Club

Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)

Summary:  after an odd home invasion by Sam I Am, Mr. Hat runs to the end of the Earth to avoid a new culinary experience.  After surviving a car/plane/boat crash, he decides that he should not have had an objection to the odd colored protein offerings of Sam I Am.

"Mommy, why doesn't he want to eat it?"
"Because he is afraid of trying new things.  You don't get very far in life if you never take risks."
"If I eat green eggs and ham, will I get a sticker?"
"Well, yes and no, you see ham isn't kosher because it's made of pig."
"But I can eat the eggs, right?"
"Yes, eggs are kosher, so are giraffes.  Though I am not sure what makes the eggs green.  I am not sure that green eggs are healthy for us."
"Mommy, I wouldn't want to eat giraffes, they are our friends."

Good Night, Good Knight (Shelley Moore Thomas)

Summary:  starring three small dragons, left alone in their dark cave in the middle of the forest.  They summon a good Knight from the neighboring castle to put them to sleep, as the Knight resists the urge to slay them with his sword.  Not because they are dragons, but because they will not go to sleep, damnit!

"Mommy, where are the Mommy and Daddy of the dragons?"
"I don't know, maybe they went out for date night and left the oldest brother in charge."
"But did the Mommy and Daddy plan on coming home and tucking their children into bed?"
"If you are asking if these children are all alone, I don't think so.  See, they each have clean jammies, toys and all the pictures on the wall of their deep dark cave in the middle of the forest are happy drawings.  It would seem to indicate that they lead a safe and joyful dragon life."
"When are the Mommy and the Daddy going to come home already?"
"When the dragons are already sleeping.  Don't worry, the Good Knight will tuck them in, and read them stories, and get them a drink of water, and sing them lullabies."

"Look Mommy, the Good Knight was so tired after taking care of the three baby dragons that he fell asleep in his chain mail and his special Knight's helmet."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Aversion Therapy

If you ask Raphaela when she will get her first haircut, she replies, "When I turn 26 years old!"

In an attempt to change that decision, my hair dresser and I have come up with a plan to slowly expose her to the salon, explaining each time that hair is magical; it grows but it doesn't feel pain if you trim it with scissors.

Every time we visit for only a few minutes, and remind Raphaela that if she wants to have really long princess hair, she should actually get a trim, that her hair will grow faster afterwards.

Thus far, she remains unconvinced.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Landing the Helicopter

There has been much talk and debate regarding Helicopter or "Tiger" parents, and I for one have always been grateful that Israeli society seems to foster more independence in children than in the United States.

In the past 24 hours I have come to understand that I still have room for improvement.

Yesterday Raphaela tried out an after-school activity at the Jerusalem Museum of Natural History, where she had previously experienced one of the her most memorable summer camps.  The 90 minute animal workshop was led by the same woman who managed the summer camp, a kindergarten teacher with miles of experience and a teaching philosophy that I have always admired.

The teacher suggested that if the parents were to remain in the room, we could participate gladly but not minimize the effect for the children.  Personally I would have been happy to meet with a friend for a cup of coffee and return for pick-up, but Raphaela wanted me to stay and meet her favorite bunny.  Throughout the play time, I found myself trying to "help" the instructor and Raphaela by re-explaining or modifying the teacher's instructions.  At a certain point, Maya Papaya Pickle [that's her name at work...] pulled me aside and explained that in her many years of dealing with children and their parents, she knows that all I have done comes from a positive place, with the intention of making my daughter's life "easier."  Maya Papaya then continued, encouraging me to consider how much more it would help Raphaela if I stepped aside and allowed her to work things out for herself, gain the confidence of knowing that she figured it out and conquered her own territory.

Yup.  And so I sat in the corner drinking tea, joining in only when Maya Papaya and Raphaela gave me their permission.

This morning I took Raphaela to speech therapy, where we have finished proper Hebrew pronunciation and have moved onto building the bridge of vocabulary between her fluent English and her fluent Hebrew, both of which get just a bit lost when Raphaela is trying to form complex sentences. I tried to observe quietly, and again, found myself several times trying to give Raphaela hints as to how to find a solution or a word faster, or at least quicker than her own mind was capable of at the time.  Yvonne, her most excellent speech therapist and kind person, gently advised me to generate the patience and give Raphaela the time she truly needed, because if she solved a linguistic issue herself, she would own it and be that much more proud of herself.

Yup.  And so I sat in the corner playing on my iPhone and only interacted in the game and evaluation when invited to do so.

After dropping Raphaela off at school, I went to the Chiropractic clinic and began my work for the day, and that's when whatsapp starting pinging.  First a message from Raphaela's kindergarten teacher, announcing that on Friday the CHILDREN would be celebrating the start of a series of teachings about the Torah.  Deborah asked that the parents send their kids to school that day in fine clothing and with celebratory Torah items, like a flag.  Deborah, the head teacher also requested that four of the parents IE fathers volunteer to read the opening chapter of Genesis, in various ethnic tunes and styles, as part of the celebration. 

PING!  Mother 1:  Well, I am coming to the celebration and I will be making a cake for the party.
PING!  Mother 2:  Me too, I will also be bring a cake.
PING! Mother 3:  I will be bringing a cake that is gluten free, for the children who may have allergic sensitivities.
(Here I am, thinking that the teacher did not want to turn this into a major parent-child event, that I really really want my Fridays free so I can relax from the whole week, and what the hell do parents gain by kissing up to the staff at the kindergarten?!  Didn't the teacher promise that parents would have only three parties the whole year? I  am willing to embrace the lasseiz faire approach...)
PING!  Deborah:  I think we have enough cakes.   Can someone bring some drinks?
PING! PING! PING! PING! (Twenty times over)  Parents 4-20:  I will bring drinks.
PING! Father 1:  I will be able to read the Torah in the Ashkenazi style.
PING!  Father 2:  I will be able to read the Torah in Sephardi style.
PING!  Father 3:  I will be able to read the Torah in Sephardi Israeli style.
PING!  Father 4:  I feel so bad, I am working on Friday and I can't help you by reading the Torah in any style.  But I just wanted to say how bad I feel about not being able to come.
PING!  Deborah:  Wow, you parents are amazing, really. Can any of the fathers read the Torah in Teimani style?  And do any of the other mothers or fathers want to open the party with a blessing for all the children of the class?
PING!  Mother21:  Wait, don't we need throw away plates and cups for the party as well?
PING!  Deborah:  Sure, why not.
PING!  Mother 22:  Hey, I wanted to bring cutlery and plates and cups and napkins!
PING! Deborah:  Please, by all means.  Now we are missing other snack foods like potato chips and such, who will volunteer for that?
PING! Mother 23:  I am going to bring the biggest bag of potato chips you have ever seen.
PING!  Mother 24:  Me too, my bag of chips will be just as big.
(Rearranging my work schedule for Friday and wondering if I am going to have to wear full synagogue regalia for this supposed minor religious gathering.)
PING!  Deborah:  Parents, by the way, you should remember that is just the first session of a full year of parent-child activities every Friday.  I think it is so important that you mothers and fathers fully encourage your children as they get closer and closer to First Grade and to their awareness as proud Jewish children.
(Every Friday?  And you know that there will be repercussions  on some level for parents who can't attend on a regular basis, because of work or Shabbat preparations, or G-d Forbid some grown up time at the end of the week.  I mean, I love my daughter and would do anything for her, but have a little mercy on a single mother...)
PING! Mother 25:  Hey, are you sure we don't need another cake?

Distracted and exasperated, I shut off my phone.

Friday, October 17, 2014

In a spontaneous act of initiative and accomplishment, Raphaela showed me (and strangers on the street, all day) that she now can zip her jackets and sweatshirts all by herself, beginning to end.

Next skill set:  tying a bow on non-Velcro shoes, and telling time on a non-digital clock.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Girl Power

Raphaela's stance on feminism is apparently based upon an event-by-event analysis, rather than a unified philosophy.  After previously asserting that Jewish ritual is man's work, an example reinforced in her classroom, she had a problem with the celebration of Simchat Torah in our local synagogue.

Before the last day of the holiday of Succot, I had spoken to friends of ours who attend our synagogue and have a boy in Raphaela's class.  I asked that my daughter be allowed to join their family in the men's section during the dancing, because at the end of the day, the men seem to have most of the fun.  When I encouraged Raphaela to find her friend, she refused, stating that if I couldn't go into the men's section, than neither would she.  Despite my explaining that I was fine with the arrangement, an indignant Raphaela would not budge.

Not wanting to deprive my daughter of the Simchat Torah experience, I and another Israeli woman convinced the men to give one of the scrolls - full size and quite heavy - to the women's section upstairs.  It was with pride that I was the first to stand in the middle of the circle, my daughter beside me, dancing with a Torah scroll.  It brought me back to my most fond memories of this particular holiday, spent in the beautiful Jewish community on the Columbia/Barnard campus.

 The tsk-tsk and sideways looks of the much older Orthodox women did not stop me or our small group of dancers today.  One woman came up to me and said, "You know, there is a reform synagogue in Jerusalem."  Another woman came over, or rather snuck over afterwards, kissed the Torah scroll I was holding and quietly thanked me for my initiative.

Once Raphaela was in the groove, she eagerly went downstairs into the men's section during the special blessing of the children, squished between almost 100 local kids of the synagogue, with the promise afterwards of a Simchat Torah goodie bag,  loaded with toys and diabetes inducing treats.

If a child is meant to feel a sense of joy and community within the synagogue, this was a great place to start, with candy.  Lots of candy.