Sunday, January 13, 2013

13.1.13 - Because this is Israel

It's been a while. I know. But then, nothing really happened for me to need to process it in writing, so I suppose that's a good sign.

Cue dramatic music.

I happen to have a soft spot for The Golden Girls, in particular, Sofia, so in her wise words, picture it: Tel Aviv, 2013. An ideal Saturday. Breakfast with friends and their kids who we hadn't seen in an age; followed by a fun family lunch with the cousins, to be topped off by coming home to catch up with other friends whom we hadn't seen in way too long, expecting their own little one in a few short months. You have friends over, you offer them refreshments. So out came the biscuits and tea and coffee. And then it happened.

My 18 month old pulled a cup of scalding hot tea off the table, spilling it all over his body.

Within half a second I darted over, undressing him to see exactly where he was hurt. Luckily, it missed his face, (although a few spots hit his chin) and some dripped on his neck and chest, but the major burn was on his left bicep. As I watched his skin peel, I had him halfway out the front door, shouting instructions at my husband to grab a jacket and get in the car. Our friends, angels that they are, drove us straight to the local children's hospital, Dana, where he was seen immediately, given pain relief, examined by a plastic surgeon, wound dressed and release form signed within an hour.  We were home by bedtime.

So, first things first, I am eternally grateful to our friends who simply didn't blink; they stayed by our side throughout the entire ordeal and both contacted me today to see how my brave boy was doing (which is excellent by the way, but I'll get to that later.) I am also extremely impressed, but on second thought not that surprised by, the efficiency of the children's hospital. You know why?
Because this is Israel.

In all the hubbub of running between children's emergency and the plastic surgeon, my son's coat got left behind in the waiting room. I called the hospital later that evening to see if anyone had seen it and could put it aside, feeling trivial and rather materialistic for asking an emergency nurse to waste her time doing so, especially on the heels of a nurses' strike in this country. The nurses response? "Of course we'll look for it - your son needs his coat!"

I hopped on my bike later that evening and went down to the hospital to search for it. When I arrived at plastics, a family who had seen us come and go was still in the waiting room. I hadn't really noticed them but they remembered me and asked how my baby boy was doing. I told them fine, but we had forgotten his jacket. Three of them at once shouted, "We know! We were saving it for you in case you came back! But a doctor just came and took it away!" A young girl from the family, perhaps all of seven, led me through the double doors (she knew the code to get through!) and said, "I hope you find the coat. And I hope your son feels better. Poor thing. He's really cute." As she turned on her heels and sped away, a nurse, whom I had no recollection of, shoved the jacket in my face and said, "Here's his jacket. How is he feeling? Poor little guy. Hope he recovers speedily." And then he went back to sorting paddle pop sticks and gauze.

This is Israel.

Another friend of mine who had a baby recently had noticed a slight "deviation" if you will between the generosity of friends from abroad and friends here in Tel Aviv. She asked if I had had the same experience, to which I replied, "Totally. Look - its impossible to get a tradesman here to do good work or use decent materials, or to get a government worker to work a second past closing time, but when it comes to the children, only the best." She smiled and agreed. It's true; most buildings in Tel Aviv are made out of sticky tape and chewing gum and God forbid you arrive a minute past two at the tax office to file a form, but if there's a baby involved, everything is different. Pharmacists let you cut stupidly long lines; everyone moves aside on the bus to help you get the pusher through and they insist you take their seat; the checkout chick at the supermarket who hasn't smiled since the release of Thriller grins at your little menace pulling apart her chewing gum display, "because he's happy, let him be."

When it comes to the children, we all religiously follow the unwritten law that says they should have it better than we did. You give them everything you have because they deserve the best. When you can't do that, or worse, they feel pain or suffering and there's very little you can do about it, you begin to get an insight into why people in this country are so intense and crazy and wonderful, all in the same moment.

Becoming a parent, I knew there would sleepless nights, stretch marks, mess and stains and all sorts of noise. All of that I was prepared for. But this, the soul crushing guilt, this is the stuff Jewish stereotypes are made of and for bloody good reason. It's simply awful. My husband and I played "it was my fault because..." for about 20 minutes after we climbed into bed last night, realizing we had to stop ourselves before one of us just jumped out the window in shame. My husband stayed home with him today to help him recuperate and to, you know, spoil the living crap out of him, which I am only sorry I wasn't there to do myself. They played all morning in pyjamas, watched cartoons, ate cookies, played in the park, went a bought a new bimba (tricycle) and had chocolate milk too. Everyone was smiles and cuddles and laughter until bath time. Until the awful red spots and open wound came back into full view. Carefully bathing, not splashing in bubbles like we usually do, having to gently place a clean, medicated bandage on a wriggly 18 month old who believes running around the house naked is an olympic sport he's training for, was awful. It looked awful. I felt awful.

My son's biggest concern was that we hadn't chosen a book and sung his favorite bedtime song yet. That, to him, was awful.

The doctor said that there won't be any permanent scarring, thank God, and it should all heal in matter of days. Well, my son will.  My husband and I, well, that's a different story altogether.
Because this is, and we are, Israel.


Monday, July 30, 2012

30.7.12 - How's my driving?


As I was navigating my way home the other day with my son's typically huge stroller (and my son, of course) I couldn't help but giggle at a bumper sticker I saw on an awfully parked car saying "How's my driving?" with a number underneath to call. This struck me as particularly funny for a number of reasons:

1. Israeli drivers are generally terrible. AS IF you want other people to comment, more than they are going to anyway.
2. The park was just outrageously bad, so much so I had to get off the pavement and walk on the street because I couldn't get the stroller through. My driving teacher in Australia, who happened to be Israeli, always taught me, as did my dad, that more people will judge your driving on the way that you park and it's just awful driver's etiquette to park badly. Apart from the invitation to judge, I thought about my ISRAELI driving teacher saying that and the whole thing just seemed hilarious.
3. My driving of the stroller seemed pretty awful in direct relation to this ridiculous park. I hoped no one was watching.

But even more than all of this, it made me think, what if there was a bumper sticker that said, "How's my parenting?" with a number to call afterwards. Touche. I wonder how many parents would get reported. I wonder how many tickets I'd have.

With the summer onslaught of guests, all of whom have been outrageously excited to see my son, I have wondered about who may be judging my driving. His personality is really beginning to shine through, and surprise to no one, he's a cheeky little rascal. He's very giggly and smiley but he's also starting to throw temper tantrums, and he's smacking. I have realized he's not actually doing it out of frustration, though that's certainly a part of it - he's doing it for reaction, simply to see what happens and also to connect with things, as is his curious habit at the moment. Okies. So in typical new parent response, we're doing all the textbook things - saying "no" firmly, asking him what he would like rather than what he wants (although "want" certainly slips out often enough) talking and walking him through the issue. That's fine. This morning though, when he reached for an electrical cord, my husband simply smacked his hand and said "no". Something I've thought about doing but refrained from many times because I've read too many scholarly articles that suggest such behavior only reinforces aggression.

But he stopped. He didn't reach for it again. 

My mother has a habit of telling the same story over and over again and there's one she tells often about my aunt not disciplining my cousin, her first child, at a meal when he was throwing food off his highchair. After my aunt's several gentle overtones, my mother, already onto her third child, eventually smacked his hand and said "no" and he stopped. Mind you this was back in the '80s, so who knows between all the shoulder pads and diet drinks what was really going on. Still, it's tried, true and tested and my cousin no longer throws food on the floor (he's 29 years old). 

So what do I do? My husband was right and the articles are right and I feel like I'm not alright. I've not yet ascertained, however, what it is that's bothering me. Is it that I don't want to discipline my child in a certain way, or that I'm afraid of being judged by others? Is my fear related to reinforcing bad behavior, or that my perfect child isn't perfect, or that others will think I'm a bad parent? What is it?

Back down memory lane. My late grandmother, who was a sassy lady to say the least, actually complimented my parenting when we were in the States a few months ago. I mention this because I'm not sure she ever did the same to my mother. She said to me, as she saw me feeding my son fruit and yogurt instead of the cookie she longed to give him, "you know what you're doing. Look how nicely he sits and eats. I won't say anything." For my grandmother, this was a big deal because she had negative running commentary on everything. I'm talking about a fear of judgement and here I was getting a compliment from the matriarch of my family who rarely had compliments for anyone. That's huge, and perhaps more meaningful than I'll ever truly understand. My son, her first great grandchild and "goldene yingele" was turning out ok thanks to me. It's weird; when he's great, I attribute it to him; when he's not, I attribute it to me. So whose judgement am I really afraid of the most?

Perhaps if I stop judging and worrying about who is judging me, this kid might have a solid chance. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

9.7.12 - Mistakes help you grow...poorer

So my little munchkin is well and truly a year old, meaning no longer a "baby" but according to babycenter.com updates, a toddler. I can now dispel a couple of myths I stupidly subscribed to way back when I was the mother of a "baby":

- Never leave your baby to cry. The world isn't actually ending if they cry for longer than a second, even though it sounds like it.
- Babies love everything warm. In a hot weather country, this is just a cruel old wives tale. They like it normal, like everyone else.
- Gently pat your child's back to burp them. Patting doesn't do anything. Rubbing the left side of their back does. The prior motion was guess work and I assume, frustration relief for the parent, like when you knock the TV to get a better picture.
- Rocking your baby to sleep will get them addicted to the motion. Clearly this will lead them into a life of drugs, misery and not law school.
- Pacifiers make your child's teeth come in crooked. Their teeth are predetermined, pacifier or not. Baby boxing, now that's gonna make 'em crooked. 
- Wait a number of months before introducing allergenic foods like kiwi or peanuts. If they have the allergy they have it, whether they try the food now or later. Israeli kids rarely have peanut allergies because they are weaned onto Bamba the second they can chew.
- Crying It Out isn't bad for them. This one is true. However, it's bloody horrible for you. 
- "Extra stretchy sides to prevent leakage" - need I explain this one?


And many, many more. Now that my son is officially a toddler, I feel I've learned a lot, things to avoid/do better next time, things to watch out for. But in truth, I still have a child that requires 100% of my attention at any given moment so really, I'm not quite off the baby hook yet, and I'm still making loads of mistakes.

My most recent one, which I'm yet to entirely determine the severity of, was buying him a first birthday present. This was a poor (literally) move on our part for several reasons. The first one is a) as if he would even know; b) he got so many other presents that we've hidden half of them to be doled out throughout the year and c) he could care less about anything else except the box and other ridiculous items like our empty coffee cups. The last one is the one that gets me the most. His father and I realized after his birthday party and unwrapping all of his gifts that we in fact hadn't gotten on the train. One might argue well hey, we do stuff every day but we chose that. And we never buy him anything, other than food, diapers and the occasional dose of medication. We've been lucky enough to be showered with gifts and hand-me-downs from literally every corner of the planet, necessitating very little additional expenditure on our part. Score, right? Wrong. Our ethnic guilt set in and off we went to buy him what we thought he needed (and wanted) most - a walker. 

My son was born with a mild condition in his neck called torticollis, a shortening of the muscles on one side that came as a result of him being lodged in my pelvis for too long during labor. It took monthly physiotherapy for the first year to correct it, a process he has now "graduated" from. He's looking very fine and asymmetrical now, thanks for asking. During the therapy, I would often get lots of "extra" tips from our talented physio, such as knowing to wait a month after he starts walking to put him in shoes, as well as the fact that all kids eventually start walking with the help of gadgets or not. Still, on our last visit he really enjoyed playing with the walker in her office, so I mentioned that to my husband and the decision was made: we were getting him one. A nice one, not too flashy or complicated, something cute and simple and we even found one that converts into a little scooter for him too. First and second birthdays taken care of in one go! Efficient parenting ho!

Except that he doesn't like it. 

I should have known better, dammit. He's received a few gifts from overseas, including a mega-fun box of goodies from his great aunt in Melbourne, all of which he likes, but not nearly as much as the box they came in. So much so that the box is now an integral part of his play area, and its where he has learned to put away his myriad of other toys, many of which I think need to be packed up and put away for good. I was so, so particular at the beginning about only ever having a few toys out, not overstimulating him, not spoiling him. Well, to hell with that. Between birthday presents, generous gifts from family and friends who say, "but I saw it and he just HAD to have it" and our most recent pointless gesture, this kid can barely crawl around the living room without a bombardment of color and plastic and horrible, horrible toy music that makes my skin crawl and disturbs my dreams. I didn't mean for this to happen. I really didn't. But it does, and I'm pretty sure it happens to everyone, even though we all start out insisting that our child will only play with educational, wooden toys, will only eat organic foods and will never watch television; rather, they will read books and listen to classical music and will beat out all the other babies in the daycare SAT.

Pfft. Ha. Sure. Call me later and tell me how that goes.

In short: Just when you think you have your head around this game, you really don't. You've just passed level one, s'all. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

28.6.12 - My pig in a blanket

Hello, summer, you firey bastard. How are you? Last time we met I was pregnant and gave birth, so I had been hot everywhere before you arrived and spent the majority of your last visit in air conditioned rooms with a tiny human attached to me. Now, you sneaky asshole, now you're here to make my life a misery with my almost-walking one year old. I have a curious little boy who wants to explore everything outdoors and you are making that incredibly tough, and my forehead very shiny, while it happens. You turd. 

I'm an American/Australian/Israeli. I was born in the States, grew up in Oz and moved to Tel Aviv four years ago. I know hot weather. I actually love hot weather and much prefer it over the cold. But I have never really understood the limitations of hot weather until now. In most of the western world, where winter reigns supreme, summer is the magical time you can actually spend outdoors with your kids. But here, in the Middle East, you duck and run for shelter and air conditioning like fire is falling from the sky, which it literally feels like it is sometimes. That, coupled with my Australian respect towards "Slip Slop Slap" (Slip on a T-Shirt, Slop on some sunscreen and Slap on hat) and the general antipathy I see towards that ethos here makes summer much more of a dangerous minefield than ever before. Plus, air con is exactly that - conditioned, and not fresh, air. You don't want your kid breathing in unnaturally cold air all the time, but you don't want them sweating themselves towards dehydration either. 

I'm at a slight impasse. Especially at night. 

I've been a big fan of swaddles and sleeping bags thus far as a mum. They do wonders to help calm my son, who is an amazing sleeper but is clearly all over the shop during the night. He's never in the same position I put him down in even moments later, which I believe is a trait he got from his father, whose ability to sleep on bizarre angles that inch me off the bed ever so slightly with so much less blanket than I began with, is legendary. As such, even though he's in a very light sleeping bag and super light pyjamas, I leave the air con on in his room for an hour when he goes down and leave a ceiling fan on overnight to circulate the cool air. 

Since the heatwave has officially begun (its going to be 35 degrees Celsius for next...forever) he's been waking up at 5am hot and sweaty, needing a drink of water and the air con back on. Once it's on he goes back down till around 7.30am. On the whole, this isn't actually so bad - it's almost like a breastfeed wake up with even less effort so I can quite easily go back to get a little more sleep. But its still a wake up. I was so sure I just perfected this whole sleeping-through-the-night game down to a graceful art, beyond teething and solids and daycare ailments and the new-found ability to suck on his own toes. I was grandmaster mummy; now I'm just another hot and bothered shmuck with a hot potato of a child. 

On the one hand, I could just lose the sleeping bag - but he likely won't soothe himself back to sleep as easily. Or I could just leave the air con at a higher temperature - I invite YOU to pay my electricity bill. Plus, I really don't like the idea. I see him going from being a pig in a blanket to a sandy-haired, wide-eyed popsicle overnight. Or I could just keep doing what I'm doing, because in truth it isn't that bad, especially considering there was a point in the not-so-distant past where I was up every four hours with him anyway.  In the beginning, the heat was actually useful - newborns like it warm and there was plenty of that going around. But my little champ now has a fairly normal internal thermometer and as such, needs my adult finger to push that damn button. I've almost got the water issue sorted - if he stands up in the crib he can reach the corner of his change table and often grabs whatever is teetering there on the side (nappy cream, baby powder, the crown jewels) for funsies. I could just leave his water bottle there for the taking. But then he'll start drinking lying down which can lead to ear infections and him soaking the bed with his water bottle, necessitating a sheet change every other day and before I know it, my perfect world will have been decimated into a smoldering heap. So I won't. But damned if the thought hasn't crossed my mind. I am able to to have air con come on at a given interval over night for a selected period of time, but that only takes care of the graveyard shift. 

Damn you technology. Why won't you ever develop for my continuing benefit and lifestyle needs?!

So here it is. I'm back up at 5am again, if only for a few minutes. I'll eat this one, because it's really not so bad. Stay tuned for my next summer rant, which is sure to be entitled "The enduring agony of my child's first sunburn, and other stories." Until then, have a healthy, safe and wonderful summer, all you northern hemisphere folk. For those of you below the equator back home, I'll have some winter gripes ready around November...


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

20.6.12 - The eye of the beholder

When your child is born, you can't take your eyes off them, literally. First of all, you can't believe there's another human being on Earth that fell out of you, so that takes some time to sink in. Secondly, they are entirely helpless. They can't do a single thing for themselves, quite unlike any other born creature in the animal kingdom. You are all they've got, so you had better keep your eyes peeled (if you can keep them open, that is.)

Then they start gaining tricks, like rolling over, grabbing things, a bit of babbling, sitting up, crawling; the list goes on. You realize that you can actually turn your head for the slightest second, but you rarely do because, well, they're still pretty incapable and quite a danger to themselves (and the cat.) My hero of a child's latest craze is climbing. He climbs the couch, the stairs, his father - you name it and he's all over it. He's started pulling himself up to stand and desperately wants to start walking but isn't quite there yet. It's a really amazing developmental stage I think, mostly because you begin to understand one of your most basic functions and how much incredible learning a child does in their first year of life. We just celebrated junior's first birthday last week and many people at his party were so excited to tell me how close he is to walking. 

Leaps and bounds. Unbelievable.

Part of this exciting development has meant mum and dad need to do more baby-proofing. He can reach the good stuff now and that's a worry. So every day sees me rearranging parts of the house to remove threats and to maintain the integrity of my spice rack, which he's infatuated with. As well, even though we live on the ground floor, every day involves a climb up the stairs of our apartment building for good measure and, I suppose, sport. He absolutely loves it. When we are over at his cousin's place, a house filled with many stairs, I rarely have a chance to sit and talk with the family because either I or my husband or both of us are after him, constantly asking each other, "are you watching him? Watch him!"

Our conversation may have changed over the past year, yes.

It make me realize that we are constantly afraid, but he certainly isn't. To the contrary, he's inspired and a little excited by the possible danger. To make the point concrete, I turned my head for a second this morning as he was climbing the couch and he slipped and went head first into the base, giving himself a stunning purple bruise on his forehead. I ran to calm him, to check he wasn't bleeding, to ice the bruise (which seemed to bother him more than the bruise itself) and after a few minutes he was right back at it, while I was having a small panic attack about being accused of child abuse. I even thought about keeping him home with me for the day because of how it looked, and of the possibility he might not be able to add and subtract in the future. He grinned at me with his six teeth and bounced up and down, excited to be scaling the sofa once more like the explorer he is. 

Brilliant or brain damaged?

What we fear for our kids, they embrace. Concerns about pain and possible injury is totally our neuroses as parents. They actually don't know what it is. Fear in this case is totally in the eye of the beholder (us) and I want to teach him to fear nothing, to try everything at least once and it seems like I'm succeeding, at the cost of my own nerves. It's easy to forget that kids hurt themselves ALL THE TIME, because God forbid there should be the slightest tarnish on your golden trophy. Of course, you don't want your child to get hurt, period, but I have to remember the lesson here is that he'll now realize not to go head first into things, lest he bumps his little keppie (head in Yiddish) and that even though it looks bad, its exactly how he will learn. Of course, there's the guilt that I didn't catch him in time (and I have caught him many, many times) but I suppose that teaches me that he needs and deserves all of my attention; whatever it is I think I need to do is not nearly as important as ensuring he doesn't brain himself.

After so many years of being defined as "easily distracted," I'm so glad you're here, my little monkey, to help me focus on what's really important.