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Archive for November, 2007

For those who don’t know this, Jewish holidays are based on the lunar calendar and therefore change each year. There’s an old joke that the holidays are always early or late. This year, Hanukkah is early, really early. The first night to light the candles is the 4th of December.

On one hand, it’s nice, because it separates it a little more from Christmas. On the other hand, it means I have to be organized a lot earlier. Thank goodness I got all obsessed with the American Girl ebay stuff when I did (sheer coincidence; I wasn’t thinking ahead to an early holiday), so at least I’ll have that. I’m over ebay, by the way. I swear.

I’m finding the kids hard to buy for this year. I just spent a couple of hours running errands and wandering aimlessly through toy sections in search of inspiration. Mostly, I’ve had it driven home once again that there is an awful lot of crap out there.

I even resorted to asking the kids for ideas, something I don’t normally do. This was Maya’s helpful advice: “Don’t buy me any books. Not one! I’ll be so mad if you give me a book.” I said, “Clearly, you were switched in the hospital nursery with my real child, because those words could never have come out of the mouth of any child of mine.” She also said, “I want more than just American Girl doll clothing, you know.” Yes, thanks so much for the helpful advice.

Asher said, “Get me something good,” like now I’ll cross ‘crap for Asher’ off my list.

Boo helpfully brought over a toy catalogue that arrived with the newspaper a few days ago and said, “I want this, and this, and this. Oh, and definitely this! And this too. I really like this …”

I am reminded of a moment when Boo and I were at the hospital for her eye. The doctor finally arrived, and while she checked out Boo’s blood pressure, ears, and so on she chatted to her. After discussing the elephants in her ears (that one never get old), she said to Boo, “So, I bet you are excited about Santa Claus coming soon.” Boo shook her head and said matter-of-factly, “No.” The doctor said, “Oh, but I’m sure he’ll bring you something good. Doesn’t he always bring you good toys?” “Nope,” responded Boo. I waited for her to go on and explain why Santa disses her so, but she was content with her responses. While it was amusing seeing the discomfort on the doctor’s face, I did quickly explain.

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Adventures in dog walking

The main beneficiary of my fitness kick is Jasper. Actually, he is currently the only one benefiting, as I am exhausted all the time, so J and the kids aren’t seeing anything positive, neither am I. (But I soldier on!)

Pretty much every day, rain or shine, I go to the off-leash dog park near here and walk Jasper for an hour or hour and a half. This place is huge – a big hunk of forest and field. The main area is somewhat fenced in and frequently very busy. But you can head out past that into more dense woods and go for kilometres, should you be so inclined.

A couple of days ago, just as I was getting ready to leave (coaxing Boo, who is feeling much, much better, out of a tree up which she climbed about 25 feet – irk!), a dog that looked like a little rottweiler came trotting purposefully past and towards the parking lot. I spotted no owner, but sometimes dogs get ahead of their people. Still, as I waited for Boo to descend, I watched the dog, who had an air of panic about it. It popped out in the parking lot, then headed back my way.

It became pretty clear the dog was lost. If I hadn’t had to pick up the kids from school, I would have leashed her and gone looking for her owner, but I didn’t have that time. However, I also didn’t want her than near the parking lot (and adjacent highway) alone. So I took her with me.

She was a sweetie, very friendly, and when my kids met her, they wanted to keep her. I think Jasper did too. I had to explain that this wasn’t some stray we’d found wandering down the road and possibly abandoned. She came from a dog park, where people who love their dogs go to give them exercise.

The owners weren’t smart enough to put a tag with her name and their number on it, but at least she did have her rabies tag, with their vet’s number on it. I phoned and gave her tag number and, thankfully, they had her in their database. They called the owner, the owner called me, and Myrtle was home soon.

Today, I upped the ante by rescuing a lost person. The main area of the park is, as I mentioned, busy, which is good for Jasper because he gets to meet and play with a lot of dogs. But it isn’t so good for my exercise agenda, because I have to stop frequently while he plays or I answer questions on what kind of dog he is. So I often head out into the wooded area and march around there in relative peace.

I was pretty much in the middle of nowhere when I encountered someone else with his dog. He was up ahead, but his dog ran back to say hi to Jasper. Jasper was delighted. Just then, they reached a fork in the path and headed right, further out. I was torn. I wanted to go that way too and Jasper clearly wanted to play with the dog, but I figured it would look weird and stalkerish to be following this one guy in this huge forest.

Left or right? Jasper looked at me with his big sad eyes, begging for permission to go after the dog. I couldn’t resist and told him, “Go say hi.” He bounded after the dog and I followed. After a few minutes, I’d caught up to the guy and his dog. I said a polite ‘hi.’ He said a polite ‘hi.’ Then he said, “Can you tell me, which way is out of here?” I asked, “Do you mean, to the parking lot?” Yup. I pointed – really far that way. “I am lost,” he admitted.

The forest is criss-crossed with dozens of trails intersecting with each other. There was no way I could just say, “Go that way, then turn left.” I mean, the poor man was walking straight away from the parking lot with the belief he was walking towards it. His sense of direction was clearly non-existent.

So I led him back out. We had a nice chat, during which he swore he was never leaving the main area again. Turns out he’s a shift worker and had been up all night. He planned to give the dog a quick walk so he could get some sleep. He was a walking zombie. I hate to think how far away he could have gotten had I not found him. Jasper was delighted. The two dogs played together very well.

He was a lovely man, thanking me very politely and shaking my hand formally when we reached civilization.

Maybe next, I could find money. That’d be good.

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First Boyfriend

Not Maya – Boo.

There is a family one street over whose kids go to the same school mine do. The oldest girl is Maya’s age, and her best friend. The second kid is a boy Asher’s age, and they are also friends. The youngest is Boo’s age, but a boy. By virtue of proximity, they’ve hung out together, but never really bonded. They were in the same class last year and this year. Suddenly, they both started demanding to be allow to play at each others houses.

Yesterday, I carpooled their kids, dumping the girls at shul school. I then dropped Asher off at their house and brought the littlest one, D, here. On the way home in the care, he announced, “I hate pink. Blllech.” I cringed slightly, waiting for Boo to become offended, as she loves pink. Instead, she yelled, “PINK!” He responded, “YUCK!” and they were off to the races.

She ordered him around terribly, but he just did what he was told. Then at one point, she got a catalogue of toys that came in the mail and told him she would show him some toys, but would protect him from the pink ones. She’d open a page and then slap her hand over something and warn him, “It’s pink!” He’d roll around as if he’d been shot, groaning, then she’d say, “It’s okay. I covered it for you.”

Okay, none of this is particularly romantic behaviour. My kids have always had friends of the opposite sex, and Maya’s best friend until she was in about grade 3 was a boy. One of Boo’s best friends, in a different school, is a boy.

But this was the clincher. I drove them back to his house, side by side in their booster seats and when we arrived, and D started to unbuckle himself, Boo yelled, “Hug! Hug! Hug!” I was sure he’d be horrified, but instead he said, “Just a minute, I have to get unbuckled.” Then he went and give her a big hug. She’s never done this with any other little boy. And he was so nonchalant about it, I wonder how many other hugs there have been? At least she had good taste – he’s got red hair and blue blue eyes and is really cute.

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Two evenings ago, Boo told me at bedtime that her left eye hurt. I took a look and could not see anything, so told her she’d feel better in the morning – standard parent line. Also wrong – by the morning, her eye was practically swollen shut. It wasn’t red and there was no apparent bite, not that there’s anything around to bite her right now.

Our doctor wasn’t in, so we saw a colleague. After ruling out the same stuff I ruled out, she sat and stared at Boo for several moments, then said, “Well, I don’t think you’ll need to go to the children’s hospital for IV antibiotics, but I just want to ask my colleague for a second opinion.” That was a bit of a shock. The second doctor agreed that oral antibiotics were the way to go, but they warned me that if Boo got worse or developed a fever, it was straight to the hospital for her. Of course. Because J is out of town.

Sure enough, after dinner I noticed she was looking kind of run down and her eye had become very red. She had a fever. I’m very lucky my parents live in the same city. My mother came over and off we went.

I have to say, it was the least awful ER trip I think I’ve had. We came armed with multiple amusements, we actually got put in an examining room after being called from the waiting room, rather than being stuck with chairs in a hall like the last two times I was there, and Boo was in a great mood. Unless someone touched her eye, it didn’t particularly hurt. Once we got to the examining room, we read, snacked and she talked incessantly as I got sleepier and sleepier. They even had the wherewithal to send a nurse in to apply a topical numbing creme to her hand in case they needed to put an IV in once we were finally seen.

When the doctor, who appeared to be about 12 years old, came to take a look, she proclaimed it still only periorbital cellulitis, instead of the more dangerous orbital cellulitis. Basically, it means the infection was still only around the eye, instead of  in it. Nevertheless, she agreed it wasn’t pretty and it was not good that the eye was still worsening on the antibiotics, and decided to give her a single dose of IV antibiotics. Yay for the numbing creme!

Boo immediately became my favourite child this morning for actually compensating for going to bed at 12:30 by sleeping in until almost 10:30 am. The other two like to keep to their mornings schedule, no matter how little sleep they’ve had – frequently a cause of great parental suffering. Anyway, the eye looked way better this morning, but hasn’t improved much since then, making me even more grateful for the heavy-duty drugs.

Ironically, I missed seeing the video I had rented, Michael Moore’s Sicko. I watched it today, though, as Boo and I lounged around. I’d read beforehand about the various methods Moore uses to manipulate situations, etc, but even given that, the movie is shocking. I knew Americans paid a lot for health care, but I had no idea how awful the situation clearly is.

I’d love to know where the Canadians who claimed to have never waited more than an hour for hospital treatment live, because I’ve never had one shorter than 2 hours. Last night, I showed up at the ER at 8:30 pm and left at 12 midnight. I didn’t resent the wait at all, though, especially seeing some of the really sick children coming through. Three and a half hours doesn’t seem outrageous for emergency care. A lot of people do end up waiting a lot longer, mostly because they are waiting to be seen for non-emergency problems. If you are going to show up at the ER for a sore throat, even a really sore throat, you are going to wait. Unfortunately, in this city, it is pretty much impossible to find a GP who will take on new clients, which leaves people going to the ER when they shouldn’t (rather than a walk-in clinic).

I shudder to think of being in a situation where I would have had to take into consideration the cost of taking Boo to the ER, or  how I would have felt if the IV antibiotics were really expensive and I had to decide whether to pay or take a chance. I’m willing to wait an awfully long time for the right to get the care she needed regardless of our financial situation.

I know I’m rambling on here, but just one more thing. There is a lot of discussion and concern in Canada about wait times. Sometimes, people wait ages to see specialists or get services like CAT scans and that does suck. It is a weakness of the system. But after Boo was born, I developed a severe uterine infection and started to hemorrhage by the time we got to the ER. I was whisked right in and started on an IV, then taken up to a room within a couple of hours. The next day, we got a private room. When the doctors feared I had a blood clot, I got an ultrasound, and MRI and some fancy lung function test that required inhaling something radioactive the day they became concerned. Thankfully, those fears were unfounded.

Then, once I was stabilized after a week, rather than keep me in the hospital for the next week just because I required constant IV antibiotics, I was given a picc line (a tube threaded into your chest for long-term delivery of drugs). A tube lead out of my arm and into a fanny pack filled with my medicine, with a small attached computer delivering the right dosage, and sent home. Every day, a nurse came to visit, change the meds, and check me out. When the computer spazzed out, I phoned a number and got help instantly.

The monetary cost to us for all this care: parking fees. They even paid for prescriptions we picked up at the pharmacy during the week I was at home with the picc line, which we normally pay for ourselves, under the logic that I was still under hospital care and was only home to save them money (my sanity was just a bonus). I spent that entire second week feeling pure, unadulterated gratitude – for being alive, for being allowed to be home, for a healthy baby, for good friends and family, and for being Canadian.

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The first bat mitzvah I attended was that of the daughter of one of J’s colleagues. I didn’t know the kid or the synagogue. It was an eye-opening experience.

It was an Orthodox synagogue, one that would probably be described as ‘Modern Orthodox.’ So I wasn’t particularly surprised that the bat mitzvah was on Saturday evening, rather than during a service. The rest of the experience was a surprise, though.

The kid read a couple of prayers (which could have taken her all of half an hour to learn, as she went to Jewish day school and had been taking Hebrew for 7 years at that point). She then made a speech. I expected a speech on the parsha (Torah portion) of the week, but nope, she just picked a topic. Thirteen years have elapsed between then and now and I still remember that topic clearly. It was: What Golda Meir Means to Me.

Even accounting for the fact that the kid was 12 years old, it was lame. It sounded just like the essay Maya wrote not long ago on why Meir is a Jewish hero, which took her a day to write. Golda Meir is an easy bulls-eye as far as proving Jewish heroism.

After her speech, the rabbi came up and praised her for all her hard work, and I couldn’t help but wonder how he said that with a straight face. I couldn’t imagine that he really thought this child was so intellectually weak that this paltry effort should be praised as hard work. He gave her a pair of candlesticks and we all went and had lunch in the elaborately-decorated events room.

I know that different Orthodox communities celebrate bat mitzvahs in very different ways and I don’t know all of them, so please don’t view this as a condemnation of all Orthodox bat mitvahs, but I did look at this one and vow that any daughter I had would not be treated as such an intellectual light-weight.

I was talking recently with the wife of a Hasidic rabbi and asked her if they did bat mitvzahs for the girls. They did, she said, then went on to describe pretty much what I’d witnessed at this other place. She went on to tell me that in the classes she taught, she concentrated on how to be a good Jewish adult and woman and proffered the opinion that the girls’ experiences were actually more meaningful than that of the boys, as the boys were so busy stressing out over learning the Cantillation and their Torah portion that they couldn’t absorb any deeper lessons on becoming a Jewish adult.

I think she’s selling both the boys and the girls short, as I think there is enough room in the average kid’s brain to learn how to chant Torah and how to be a good Jew, all at the same time. I confess, I did not tell her so.

She also told me that the girls are delighted to not have to go through the trials of learning how to read the Torah. I believed that. A couple of years ago, after witnessing her cousin’s bar mitzvah, Maya announced she wasn’t having one. Shyer then than now, she watched him up there in front of everyone, chanting and even occasionally making a small slip-up, only to be saved by the rabbi, and decided she would die if forced to do that.

I told her that she had no choice. She’s Jewish, therefore she is having a bat mitzvah. “I’m converting to Christianity then,” she announced. You can’t, I told her. “You converted to Judaism!” she argued. I lied: “I know. You can convert to Judaism, but not out of it.”

After sulking for a few moments, she said, “Fine. But I’m not chanting Torah.”

“Yes you are.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

“Girls don’t have to!”

“Other girls don’t have to. You do.”

“Why?”

“Because I said so.”

“That’s not a reason!”

“You’ll thank me when you are older.”

“No I won’t.”

But I believe she will. I’ve seen the pride, relief and accomplishment on the faces of kids who have just successfully completed their Torah portions. I’ve felt it to, after I read from the Torah in Israel. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in struggling with something truly difficult and mastering it, then demonstrating that mastery in front of your whole community. I cannot help but think that while the girls who do nothing more than a prayer or two and a speech on what Golda Meir means to them might initially feel relieved to have avoided all the hard work they see their brothers doing, ultimately they realize they’ve been dissed. Their community is subtly sending the message that they can’t cope with anything more.

I know that isn’t what those communities intend. They are doing their best to get around the problem that they believe fundamentally that girls cannot touch the Torah while at the same time trying to give them the same sense of welcome into adulthood the boys have – different, but equal is the phrase they like to use. But of course, it isn’t equal, not when it takes a boy a year or two to prepare for his coming-of-age, and the girl really needs no more than a month or two for hers.

So, despite all the stress I’m facing preparing for Maya’s bat mitzvah, schleping her to shul school, the inevitable battles over practicing her Torah and Halftorah portion, the nerves that will no doubt be involved, I’m still grateful to be doing this.

I can’t wait to see the look of pride, relief and achievement on my daughter’s face, well earned.

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Shopping on ebay is so much fun now that the American dollar has tanked. It used to be that it was still cheaper to get stuff, like my lovely fountain pen, on ebay rather than retail. But you had to be careful. You had to take the price and raise it to account for the fact that the Canadian dollar used to be worth about 80% of the US one. Then there was shipping on top of that, then you had to raise the shipping too, which was already frequently ridiculous because we are ‘international.’

But now, ebay shopping is a joy, except for the stupid shipping hassles. If you log in on ebay.ca, the listings kindly convert the prices into Canadian currency in brackets after the US price. It is so much fun seeing a smaller number in the brackets. Probably too much fun. My simple brain looks at the reduced number and says, “It’s so much cheaper now to buy in the States it is almost free! Free!” Click.

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I’ve just been a little … distracted … lately.

I’d say the biggest culprit is those damned American Girl dolls. My girls love theirs. All they want for Hanukkah is more clothes, shoes, etc. Those outfits are expensive. One outfit for one doll is $24! And Boo has twins!

Suddenly it occurred to me to check ebay. And that is when I disappeared.

There are approximately 3500 items of American Girl clothing on sale on ebay, much of it handmade. Of course, while many people say they will ship to Canada, no one bothers to put what they’ll charge a Canadian for shipping. While it seems likely that the person charging $2 per item is more likely to charge about the same to ship here than the guy claiming to need $16 to ship a pair of doll pants north, I’m not taking any chances. This means I need to email the people I am interested in buying from and ask them about shipping, then wait for a reply before going ahead.

Worse, I have to guess what Maya would like, which I still clearly suck at. I left a picture of a dress up on the screen that I had just bought – it was cute, I swear – and Maya walked by and said, “Uch! That is hideous!” We really do have different tastes. Fortuantely, Boo thought it was adorable.

So I’m been spending my computer time comparing doll dresses and PJs and snowsuits. Blog? What blog?

I’d like to point, since J will probably read this, that I am not spending all my time searching for dolly clothing, just my computer time – time I would otherwise be spending writing my blog or reading others. But it is winding down now. I have enough stuff for Hanukkah for the two of them, plus birthdays and various other occasions that may arise. So I’m back.

Next up: more bat mitzvah rambling.

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