Sunday, February 27, 2011

Let the Fashion Wars begin!

Foreword: We have everyday shoes for going to nursery and playing in the park. We have best shoes for Shabbat (Saturday), parties and other special occasions.
Everday shoes sitting at home

Best shoes going to nursery
Round one: DD 1 - Mummy 0

Thursday, February 24, 2011

#ThTh: Thank you to Raheli the Ganenet

The Ganenet is the nursery teacher at DD's nursery (gan in Hebrew). Our Ganenet is Raheli and we love her because she is the best Ganenet in the whole of Israel. This isn't an official statistic - just my opinion.

Thank you Raheli for taking DD aside and teaching her how to wait without crying until it is her turn. And then teaching me how to reinforce this at home.

Thank you for recognising that DD likes to be the boss 'in charge' of something and helping her to play this role a little every day. Thank you for helping DD give out her little bag of salty snacks - one each to each of the other children, when she arrives at gan in the morning. Thank you for letting her go around to each of the children on their mattresses at nap time and tell each one that it's time to go to sleep now, before returning to her own mattress and lying down.

Thank you for taking all the heart-shaped, pre-cooked dough for biscuits that the children had, with runny noses and sticky fingers, rolled, cut out and placed on baking trays - throwing them away and making a new batch of biscuits to give to the parents at the Family Day party. Everyone enjoyed eating the biscuits which the children thought they had made :)

Thank you for teaching DD Hebrew and sometimes translating for her to make sure she understands.

Thank you for loving the children and for the hugs and kisses they receive in abundance. DD running into gan every day, eager to get into the day's activities and be with her friends, is the most wonderful thing to see each morning.

Thank you for the emails and the photos you regularly send us. You and Linda are far better photographers than I am. Thanks to you, I now have a full album of DD photos to keep for her and to share with the family.

Thank you for assuring me that you will know when it is time to toilet-train DD and that we will do it together.

Thank you for all the love and advice.

Thank you Raheli.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Meeting the (Sperm) Bank Manager

I called the bank at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and the bank manager (BM) gave me an appointment - easy as that. Except that it was five weeks away! I was devastated. "Nothing earlier?" I asked. "No." Short and abrupt - I was scared of this woman already.

My appointment came round at the end of January 2005 and I went to see the BM. She looked just like her telephone manner - short, angular and stern. She took me into a room and we sat down. Then she smiled and offered me coffee and everything was ok.

It was like going to see a match-maker except, once I'd made the decision about which man to take, we didn't have to meet and I didn't have to like the reality of him. And of course he didn't have to agree - which has been the downfall of many of my relationships.

So it all rested on the BM's description. She is a very clever woman. She very quickly established what I wanted to hear, made her decision about the best match, and then described him in a way that she knew would appeal to me. It was very straightforward. She chose and I agreed. I was no trouble at all.

"What is important to you?" she asked. I wanted someone with a Mizrachi background, I told her. I was refering to Jews of North African decent.
"Because I have dark skin even though I am Ashkenazi (of European decent) and I want there to be more chance that the child will look like me. Also dark skin is healthier in a hot climate. And, I think a mixture of genes is also less likely to cause genetic problems."
"Any other reasons?"
"Yes, children of mixed race are often very beautiful."
"So what should he look like?"
"Well he shouldn't be ugly. The dark skin I mentioned already. And it would be nice if he had a slim gene as I've always had to watch my weight."
"He doesn't have to be a genius but he must have the basic level of high-school matriculation. I think most children can be educated even without a genius gene."

The BM thought for a moment. "I've got someone who I think would be perfect. He's tall, slim and he's got straight hair." I smiled to myself - she assumed I wasn't satisfied with my thick curls. Of course she was right. All curly heads secretly crave the sleek sophistication of straight hair.

"He's a real gentleman." She'd hit my soft spot. She'd sussed out that the English woman wanted a gentleman. Not rocket science but nevertheless quite astute I thought.

Then she told me his chosen profession - to show me that he wasn't a dropout or a waster. I was happy with the career choice - neither a doctor nor a professor but acedemic enough for me. BM thought she ought to mention another candidate - I was supposed to be making a choice after all.

"There is someone else," she said, almost to herself. "He's from India and he's very dark. I think he's too dark for you." In any other context this would be a racist remark but we were all about matching skin tones not finding a soul-mate.

So that was decided then. I was to call her a week before I was ready for the sperm. "Any questions?"
"Just one. Why do they do it? The donors, I mean"
I wanted to believe that they needed the money to pay for their university studies (most of the donors are students) but money can be used for anything. It was a fair reason.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Making my Peace with Donor Sperm

In my last blog about signing up at the IVF clinic, I wrote that I came away with a list of blood tests to be done and the phone number of the Sperm Bank. I wrote that I loved my friend N's twins and there was no question mark hanging over their heads - they are N's children full-stop. Even so, I was still having trouble accepting the concept of donor sperm. I didn't mind being a single mother, but I wanted my child to know who her other parent is, where he comes from, who his family are.

One day I was out shopping and I saw L coming out of a shop with her baby boy. L is a journalist who had written in the local paper about her decision to have a child on her own with the help of an anonymous donor. I admired the baby and told her that I was considering taking the same route, except that I was still having difficulty coming to terms with the concept of donor sperm.

"It's not an issue," said L.
"But he doesn't have a family!" I blurted out. Even as I said it I wished I hadn't. I could have kicked myself for being so thoughtless and insensitive. It just came out - my real and basic instinct. Deep inside I was still repulsed by the idea.

L was gracious enough to smile and answer gently, "yes he has, he has my family."
"You're right," I mumbled and turned to make a hasty retreat. I was embarrassed by my outburst and ashamed of my rudeness.
"If you ever want to talk about it you can call me," offered L generously. I thanked her and walked away, humbled.

Over the next few weeks I asked some of the single men I knew if they would consider fathering a baby with me. Well it would be silly, I figured, to get pregnant with (or should that be without?) an anonymous donor, only to have one of my friends say, "why didn't you ask me? I would love to be a father."

Mostly they declined. Then one friend said that he would like to think about it. I let him go away and think about it. Meanwhile I went away and really thought about the consequences of having a baby with someone you respect and like, but were not planning on building a life with. Suddenly a whole slew of potential problems starting flashing before me.

What if we disagreed on how to raise the child? What if he wanted to be more religiously orthodox and encouraged the child to be more orthodox in a way that I did not want to live my life? What if I wanted to send my child to one type of school and he wanted a different type of education? What if he married a woman who tried to be a mother to my child? What if she didn't? What if I wanted to live in Australia for a couple of years but he wouldn't let his child leave the country?

I realised that I would have to confer with this man on every life decision for the next eighteen years. Don't get me wrong - I liked him. I liked him very much and I respected him. Otherwise I wouldn't have asked him to be the father of my baby. But, I admit, I had not thought it through properly.

We were not a couple and we did not necessarily share the same outlook on life or religious practices. I'd seen some divorced friends held to ransome (literally) every time they wanted to take their children abroad on holiday or to visit relations. My parents live in London and we live in Jerusalem. How could I risk that? It's true that my friend and I didn't have any of that emotional baggage created by the pain and resentment of divorce. But why was I willing to create a situation in which decisions about my family would be dependent on someone who was not a part of it?

I made my decision. I wanted an anonymous donor. I wanted a baby who could hope to have a childhood with as little complication as possible. Two parents who are not together is potentially more problematic than one family with one parent. And if there was one thing I knew for sure - this child would not be short on love.

P.S. A few weeks after bringing DD home (four years later), I wrote an apology to L. She did not remember the incident but she thanked me and, once more, offered me her friendship and assistance.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February is the Monday morning of the year.

The rain has stopped here in Jerusalem and the sun is shining, albeit a weak sun without much heat. However, it is February which means that I cannot enjoy a sunny day without feeling guilty. You see, we need the rain desperately. So when it rains we all say 'hooray' and pretend to like it. (Notice I wrote that we say hooray, not shout hooray; and no exclamation mark or capital letter to indicate any excitement.)

It is easy to forget that during the long, hot summer months, we dream about rain and cooler weather. When it was too hot to go out, DD sat in the laundry bucket filled with water on the balcony and we sang: This is the way we wash our face on a cold and frosty morning - in 40 degree heat. And then September comes. As if by magic, the heat dissipates and we enjoy a few weeks of autumnal respite. By this I mean that the temperature outside is ideal room-temperature and you don't need coats or jumpers. And, during this period, when it rains for the first time we jump about with joy and run outside to feel the freshness on our faces.

This comfortable transition lasts until about mid-November. Then the cold sets in. You don't notice at first because the houses are made of stone and so take a while to cool down. By February it is miserable. Wherever you live in the Northern Hemisphere, February is the final complete month of winter. By March you can see that it is the beginning of the end of exploring the great indoors. But February is just depressing.

Thoughts wander into the realms of spring-cleaning but it is way too cold to throw open the windows and air the place out. The view from the window is bleak. The draught from the window frame is cold. It is a cruel joke that February comes one month after New Year Resolutions. Diet? Sorry, I need my rice-pudding. Walks? In this weather? Getting up with the alarm? Impossible. I tried it once but it was too painful.

So in keeping with those clever clogs who tried to promote an antidote to Monday mornings by having the week start on Tuesday, I declare that March will be my New Year from now on. My Grandmother used to say that the afternoon begins at 2pm so I am following a sort of family tradition. And if 50 is the new 40... well you get the picture.

So be kind to yourselves until the end of February and promise to instigate those resolutions on March 1st. February is for snuggling up under the duvet (just ask the bears and a million other hibernating mammals). Now you have let yourself off the hook for the next 2 1/2 weeks, treat it like a winter holiday. Indulge yourself, make big plans for the future, watch movies, dream, read a book... and don't even think about washing the kitchen floor.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Al Jazeera and me

I admit that my focus in life revolves around whether I have a ripe banana - not too ripe - to give DD for breakfast. I am also very dilligent about not running out of nappies or wet-wipes. However, all this homemaking has to be at the expense of something and, for me, it has been any notion of what is happening in the world outside my little suburb of Jerusalem. I'm not proud of this but I also didn't waste any angst over it either - there will always be news when I'm ready to re-engage, right?

This attitude is fine until you venture out into the realms of real people. In such company, quite frankly, it can be embarrassing. I have an student at the BBC in Jerusalem and, once a week, I go there to give her an English lesson. A few weeks ago she mentioned that they were very busy because of what was going on in Tunisia. I hadn't a clue what she was talking about. It was only a revolution in a (sort of) neighbouring country. I was really embarrassed and I vowed not to be so clueless in future.

So, at least once a week, usually before setting out for the BBC, I go into the internet and have a cursory glance at the state of the world. I come away with at least knowing what subjects are in the news even if I don't know the details. So, for instance, I know that Australia has been having a terrible time recently - but I'm not quite sure how floods the size of Germany have turned into raging bush fires.

In addition, my student and I choose one or two current topics from a selection of UK newspapers to read about and discuss. Last week and this week we have been discussing the situation in Egypt. When I say 'discussing' I mean that she tells me what is happening and I correct her English.

Thus, when I emerged from the office this morning and was asked by a TV film crew if I wouldn't mind answering some questions about the Egyptian protests, I found myself saying yes. And there I was, giving my opinion about Mubarak, The Moslem Brotherhood, Hilary Clinton, The Middle East, World Peace... It crossed my mind that I should look into the camera rather than at the interviewer, but it felt too arrogant to suddenly change my pose - as if I really had a point to make.

At the bus stop I met a friend. "I've just been interviewed by a TV station," I told him. "I don't know who they are but the interviewer spoke Hebrew with an Arabic accent." "Oh over there by the bank, it's Al Jazeera," he said.

All the way home I kept thinking: I spoke to Al Jazeera, I spoke to Al Jazeera... It's not that I think mothers of toddlers cannot have educated opinions, it's just that this mum didn't even know there had been a revolution in Tunisia.

P.S. Part of me is waiting for the backlash in the form of a clip on You Tube entitled: Stupid Israeli housewife talks out of her *****!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Weddings and Potties: the Pain of No Grandchildren

Last night one of my friends made a wedding for her son. This is the second wedding she has made as her daughter got married a couple of years ago. I was at home showing DD the new potty I had bought for her.

Of my friends, only the ones with lots of children have one (two at the most) bar or bat mitzvas left to make. Most of them are on to weddings. About six of my contemporaries have married children and one is a grandmother of twins.

These twins are about six months older than DD, which is very significant. When the two baby girls were born, I was, thankfully, already three months into my pregnancy.

A while ago I read an article in one of the UK newpapers online (I must start making a note of where I read things) written by a childless woman in her 50s. She wrote about how she had got past the baby-blues and had almost forgotten the pain of not having children of her own. In fact, she had been enjoying a period of renewed availability amongst her friends who no longer had to be tied to the home to babysit their young children. As her friend's children grew up, the differences between their lifestyles became less obvious. Once more they were able to meet for coffee, go shopping together or to see a film.

Then the friends started whipping out photos of their newly arrived grandchildren. The writer was not prepared for the violent reaction she felt. She said it was like being childless all over again. All the emotions she had dealt with the first time around, returned with a vengeance. If anything it was even worse as, the first time round she had not entirely given up on becoming a mother.

As I hear about the weddings of my friends' children I am able to rejoice in the cycle of life and be excited for them. I watch DD playing with her new potty in the living-room - it's very good for carrying plastic Disney figures around - and I thank God.