Wednesday, 11 February 2015


 I have recently read 2 paeans of praise for epidurals on Kveller, one from Jordana Horn , who really has skin in the game, seeing as she is expecting her 6th (kol haKavod, besha’ah tovah, or as someone told her, ‘G-d bless you!... G-d help you.’), and another from Renee Septimus, who gave birth around the time that I did, ie back in the day. So I, as mother of 7, felt I could make a comment or three.

Background: As a medical student in 1977 I did a 10 week obstetrics term in a major teaching hospital (different system in Australia) and I got to see all sorts of births and assist as well. And when I saw that epidural being introduced in (then) the minority of women, this enormous trochar and cannula (Medicalese for whopping big needle), inserted in the laboring woman’s back, I was agog and aghast, and I solemnly swore to myself that I would never have anyone do that to me. I nearly passed out just watching.

I am no good with procedures of any kind, neither doing them nor having them done to me; I wanted to be a psychiatrist after all. (Definition of Psychiatrist: Jewish doctor who hates the sight of blood. Hahaha. I digress.)

My first delivery was of twins at 36+ weeks, 34 years ago. My OB was an older guy, trained in London, who inserted a local anesthetic block (details available on request) and delivered the twins vaginally, the second twin breech, with 2 sets of forceps and the sort of skill that no longer exists. He was masterful; he only did stuff when he had to do it, and when he did, he did it well. I stuck with him for subsequent pregnancies despite the fact that he had the bedside manner of a fish, because I recognized and respected his awesome skill and cool head.

So yes, pain relief; but no epidural.

All my other babies were delivered vaginally with no instrumentation and no epidurals; I did have a shot of Pethidine (Demerol) on two occasions, but my last two, one babe of 11lbs and the last of 10.5lbs, with no pain relief at all, except prenatal yoga and what would now be called hypnobirthing. I’m not saying it was easy; it was hard work! That’s why they call it LABOR after all!

Big deal, good for you, I hear you say. Yes. There is a lot of Mazel (luck) in life, birth no exception. Yes, I was lucky, thank G-d. And I also prepared before each birth, with mental, more than physical, exercises; I had a lot of pelvic pain so all I could do was swim, and do very gentle antenatal yoga. The yoga teacher was more into the mental work than her title suggests and it was amazing.

Giving birth with full mental clarity and untethered to tubes and machines and monitors is incredibly empowering. The feeling of elation and triumph was indescribable. I felt like I had won 5 Olympic Gold medals.

Renee has stated that in 30 years she knows of no complication to mother or child from an epidural. As she knows and as we all know, anecdotes do not really mean anything in determining the safety of a medicine or a procedure. So what I am about to say also might not mean a great deal; but unfortunately, I have known personally 2 women who had dreadful results from routine epidurals. In one case, a 5th pregnancy, the epidural site developed an abscess which nearly resulted in the woman becoming paraplegic; fortunately, she recovered after months in hospital and eventually regained the use of her legs. But because she had been so ill, her baby had to be fed formula, unlike her other children whom she breastfed for 2 years. Thank G-d the child is well, but my friend did mourn the loss of the breastfeeding and the early weeks getting to know her baby.
In the other case, the poor young woman delivering her first child had a lethal allergic reaction to the epidural and could not be saved.  The baby survived emergency C-section.
These are very very very rare outcomes. Far more common are the terrible headaches which prevent a new mother from sitting upright, and may not resolve until a procedure called a ‘blood patch’ is used to stop the leakage of the cerebro-spinal fluid from the epidural site.
And there is some evidence that babies are affected directly or indirectly because there are negative effects on breastfeeding early on.

So although I cannot quote you statistics and figures, I can tell you that no procedure is entirely risk-free, epidurals included, and I believe that they should not be used routinely.

Let’s consider giving birth without drugs and intervention as a sort of Personal Everest: It’s a hard climb, but the view and the pride in achievement are incomparable. There are some people who can summit without oxygen- well, not everyone can do that. Sometimes you need extra oxygen or extra Sherpas; and sometimes you need to be Medevaced from base camp. It doesn’t always go according to plan, even with good preparations. But to labor (sorry) the metaphor, I think it is not good to avoid even trying on the climbing boots because you are afraid that they will hurt your feet.

I have heard Sheila Kitzinger talk of giving birth as one of the last truly wild and natural things that we can do in our civilized lives; she said something like, it is standing on a mountaintop with the wind blowing through your hair, it is magnificent, and it is ours. And at the time I thought, well, that’s a load of tosh; tell that to a woman having a hard time. But there is something in that image of a strong woman, whipped by the elements, screaming in triumph. It does get to me a bit; but it’s not for everyone, I agree.

We live in a time and place where there are marvelous medical procedures available, and that is a good thing. We have choices, and that is also a good thing. But when we choose to make interventions routine and commonplace, we see that the harmful side-effects also become more commonplace. 

And I believe we lose something of ourselves when our fear makes us give ourselves into the hands of detached professionals, when perhaps we didn’t need to.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Einat Wilf and the War of Words against Israel.

Today I heard a Defender of Israel speak about the war on Israel conducted with words, and what we can do about it.
Her name is Dr Einat Wilf, former Labor and Independent MK, and she spoke for AIJAC, and she is speaking tonight at Caulfield Hebrew Congregation. She is worth listening to and I urge anyone reading this to go hear her.
She, by the way, ticks every box. She is intelligent and articulate, well-credentialed with a PhD in Political Science from Cambridge, her English is perfect and her manner engaging. She is also young (44), beautiful, a wife and mother. While my mentioning this may seem rather trivial, the fact is that good looks and presentation count when putting forward persuasive argument; people listen. That's life. But as I say, she is also supremely informed and articulate, and that matters more.
I have excerpted a speech which she made in Dublin Nov 22 2014, because she more or less made similar points this morning and will no doubt make similar points tonight. But I still want you to go and hear her if you can.
We must all be Defenders of Israel in this war of words, in cyberspace and in the real world. Modern Israel is an idea which was willed into existence; today's attitude of delegitimization is attempting to insert false ideas of what Israel is into the psyches of people in an attempt to make Israel vanish. We must fight this every day. We must never let libels sit forever on the Internet, unanswered and unchallenged. We must all be cyber warriors; it is a real war.

Please read Dr Wilf's speech.

"What I want to do this evening is to lift the veil from what is really going on in the fight for Israel. This fight is not about PR, it’s not about criticism, it’s not about Israel’s image and improving it. What we currently experiencing is a war, and it’s not a war waged by means of tanks or airplanes or tunnels or rockets; it is a war waged by means of words and images and ideas. To some, this seems to be a war waged by means that are non-violent, and that is supposedly something we should celebrate, right? We speak so often about non-violent resistance. We think about leaders that lead non-violent resistance. We think about Gandhi, about Martin Luther King Jr. So we think that if the Palestinian means are also non-violent, then so too are their ends. But there’s no relation. You can have a violent struggle for a noble cause, and you can have a non-violent struggle for a very sinister one. And this is precisely what we’re seeing here. The cause is the same that it has always been, even when it is waged by non-violent means. The goal of this non-violent battle is the undoing of Zionism and the undoing of its primary and most important crowning achievement – the establishment of the State of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.
There have been efforts to achieve this end by military invasions, by terrorism, by economic strangulation. All of them failed. Not only have they failed, Israel has emerged stronger from these challenges. Israel’s need to physically defend itself means that we have developed one of the best fighting forces in the world, and its society is mobilized to its own defense. The Arab boycott, meant to strangle the fledging Israeli economy, meant that we realized that we need to trade with the US and Europe and India and China. So, Israel is the only country in the world that does not trade with the countries that share its borders, and yet we have one of the world’s strongest export economies. We had no choice. Israel has also learned how to beat terrorism – not that it has been vanquished completely, but it has diminished to a point that we can continue to live our lives, enjoy our lives, and even celebrate our lives.
So, due to all our challenges, we have emerged stronger. But, the other side has never given up. Each time we successfully counter the challenges thrown at us, we have become stronger, and the Palestinians merely changed tactics. So, when people now celebrate that the other side uses diplomatic means, means of non-violent resistance, popular boycotts, we must understand that this is no reason for celebration since their end goal has stayed the same. The Palestinians have not given up on violence because they have seen the light and have realized that they are truly pacifists. Instead, they are renouncing violence because violence has failed them. So, they are trying something else. The Palestinians are currently waging a non-violent war for very violent ends. I call it the placard war. I’m sure you’ve seen those placards and demonstrations everywhere. They say “Zionism=…..”. Now you might know that Zionism = the inspirational idea of the liberation movement of the Jewish people, the return of the Jewish people to establish a sovereign state in their homeland. However, on those placards it reads Zionism= racism, colonialism, imperialism, apartheid, and (recently joining the group) genocide. People who know nothing about Israel and Zionism will believe these placards. And I have met these people in high schools and colleges around the world; Students who believe they understand the situation will ask questions like “What do you have to say about that apartheid wall?” I can assure you that many know nothing else. “What do you have to say about Zionism’s colonial practices?” they will ask. But they know nothing more about the situation.
So, this has been a very effective strategy for the Palestinians. Don’t be fooled. this has not been an accidental strategy. It has a clear purpose. The purpose is not criticism of Israel nor a discussion of the issues; the purpose is to paint Israel and Zionism as the ultimate evil. These words are chosen because they have become associated in the global mindset with evil. If Israel and Zionism are the ultimate evil, then shouldn’t people of good will do something to make sure that that evil is erased from the face from of the earth? Even the Nazis were convinced they were doing something good. Their minds had been prepared to such an extent that they believed that by eliminating the Jewish people, they were in fact serving the world; doing something good for the world, ridding it of a disease. So, if you think about it and history, the greatest atrocities have been preceded by the preparation of people’s minds. This is what we’re seeing today. This is the nature of this war.
Don’t think that it’s about independence for Palestine. If it had been about independence, this war would have been waged by other means and, by the way, Palestine would have existed a long time ago. This is a war that is waged to ensure that Zionism is rolled back, that the State of Israel as the national expression of the Jewish people no longer exists. People’s minds are being prepared for this reality. If Israel and Zionism are truly so evil, then something must be done. If you’re a person of good will – and I can assure you that many people who are involved in these campaigns believe that they are persons of goodwill- and you’ve been told day in and day out that Zionism and Israel are evil, then you do whatever you can to make sure that that that evil no longer exists.
This is the nature of this war. It’s amazing the extent to which it has been successful. Recently, a young man in a college in Virginia confronted me to ask what I had to say about the fact that Zionism is colonialism, I had to teach him a few basic historical facts. So, I asked him if he could name one colonial movement in history that was sent by no one to a country with zero natural resources – and I can assure you 150 years ago they didn’t know we would find natural gas. So, the history of modern day Israel is about  people coming of their own volition to a place with no natural resources, purchasing land, having an idea of working the land with their bare hands, and employing no one else to do it for them, and above it all in their minds, believe that they were coming home. I’m not aware of any other such colonial movement in history. I can tell you, this young man had no idea that this was the story of the birth of the State of Israel.
People speak of apartheid. But how many people are aware of the context, of the fact that there is a national struggle in which one side – the Jewish people – have been willing to settle for something (less than everything) and therefore they have something and another side which has refused to settle for anything other than everything, and therefore they have nothing. That is the essence of this national struggle.
Some people would give an excuse that there is an inflammation of passions given the difficult images we saw on television this summer. Let me explain something about these images. While they are harrowing, they are not accidental. They do not tell the story about Hamas militants operating from densely populated areas. Have you wondered why there are no images of fighting between soldiers and Hamas militants – but only “civilians” from Gaza?
Israeli soldiers returning from the battle saying “If this is not war, we don’t know what is.” They were fighting Hamas militants, well-armed by a combination of locally produced arms and Iranian-shipped arms, yet we saw none of that. Hamas had a clear strategy. Hamas knew that with all due respect to the rockets and the tunnels, the real war was taking place on the television screens in millions of homes across the globe. They knew this was the real battleground and they made sure they have a totalitarian control of the Gaza Strip.  They made sure that no image of Hamas militants crossed those screens. Journalists later testified to that. They [Hamas] made sure that no image of rockets being launched from near schools or densely populated areas were aired. So, all that remained on television screens were images of women and children dying. So, what is the story people see? They see that Israel is senselessly killing women and children for no good reason, just because it enjoys it – that Israelis are baby killers.
That is an essentialist argument; it’s not about civilians dying in war, it is about Israelis in their very essence being baby killers. Now, at least in the ancient blood libels, the Jewish people were blamed for killing children in order to use their blood to make matzos for the Passover Seder. I sarcastically say that at least when they made up this story, they also provided us with a use or the action. In this new libel, there is no purpose, just sheer enjoyment when perpetrating genocide. Well, sometimes things are so outrageous you need to use a little bit of humor. I don’t know how effective it is, but one of my favorite articles, albeit a mock article, I saw after the claim of genocide began to appear, was that Israel’s Minister for Genocidal Affairs had to quit over repeated failures. Again, I’m not sure that this is sufficient to explain the claims against us, but it does give you a sense of the frustration of what we’re being charged with because it’s not about inflamed passions, it is purposeful.
There are a lot of uses for blaming Israel for committing genocide. Let’s say that Israel was only accused of colonialism or apartheid. If you blame Israel for apartheid, then all you have to do is bring down the Zionist regime, but the Jews can stay. If you accuse Israel of colonialism, then the Jews need to go “home”, but they can live somewhere other than Israel. If you blame Israel and Zionism for genocide, nothing but total war for their annihilation will do. And then it also serves other purposes because if the Jewish people are committing genocide then the genocide against them was not so bad, even justified – retroactively justified. That’s another great use of this word association. Another completely accepted but wrong idea is that if the Palestinian people are experiencing genocide, then the word will give them a state and be on their side.
There is a phenomenon which I call 'Zionism denial'. We all know what is Holocaust denial. Zionism denial is the story that the State of Israel was given to the Jewish people – the remnants – after Europe realized it had failed in its Final Solution. They were given some random piece of land from its empire (because it felt guilty, of course) and that’s why the Jews have a say and that’s why they pushed out the Palestinians. As such, Europe has a responsibility towards the Palestinians because they are the secondary victims of Europe’s crimes. Well, this explanation is not only utter nonsense, it is the complete denial of the history of Zionism. Before World War II, Israel existed in everything but name.
Israel has come into being not because guilty Europeans gave it to them. Israel exists because the Jewish people willed it into being. This is the history that the Palestinians have yet to understand; that a state is not given, not handed over, you have to will it into being through positive action. This is the story of Zionism. But, if you tell the story of genocide, well, maybe a guilty world will give you a state and, in the process, get rid of the ‘genocidal Jews.’
If you think that these accusations disappeared with the summer, you are wrong. I just came from Belfast where I met a senior member of Sinn Fein who told me that the genocide Israel committed over the summer is a “shame, shame, shame”. I explained that Israel took unparalleled and unprecedented measures to limit civilian casualties, both its own and those of the other side. And then he said “we’ll agree to disagree.”’ And I said no, this is not a minor point of disagreement where we agree to disagree; you will retract what you said. And we were at it for a while until he had to end the meeting. But, this is the essence of how this war is being waged, and these things stick. If we don’t fight, they stick, and in the age of the internet what you don’t fight sticks and spreads.
If a Norwegian politician says that the Mossad was behind the shooting of the young Norwegians on an island and no one says anything because the story is insane, the misinformation will stick. If people say that Israel set up this remarkable field hospital in Haiti in order to harvest organs, that too will stick. So, we need to understand that this is the situation currently going on. Nothing less. And nothing here is accidental. Nothing here is about ‘inflamed passions’; it is with a very sinister purpose.
So what needs to be done? First, we need to recognize what this new war is all about: that the non-violent means say nothing about the fact that the end goal is a violent end. We must recognize the need to mobilize. That’s another reason I speak so highly of Boaz and Nurit [Israel's ambassador to Ireland, Boaz Modai and his wife, Nurit Tinari-Modai]: because they are mobilized. Not enough of our foreign service members are mobilized. We don’t need diplomats anymore, we need warriors, we need people to fight because this is a war. As such, we need your help to mobilize and to enlist. Now, when we have to defend ourselves physically, we established what was called the Israeli Defense Forces. Now, I argue we should create the IIDF, the Israeli Intellectual Defense Forces. This is what we need today. We need intellectual warriors; people who wield words and images and ideas to win this battle. The beauty is that each and every one of you can self-enlist. In fact, you are here because you have already self-enlisted, you have already done something to fight.
This is a long haul battle. While we have emerged stronger from all our challenges, it didn’t happen overnight. It took us 25 years to get the militaries of Arab countries to finally decide not to try to mobilize their militaries against Israel. It took us decades to build Israel’s export-based economy; it took us decades to figure out how to deal with terrorism; and it will take us a while to win this war, but we will win and I will tell you why. I will first tell you what victory will look like because you might wonder what victory looks like in a war of words and images and ideas. Victory will come the day that those who hold anti-Zionist views, that those who hold the placard with views that I discussed, will have the social acceptability of neo-Nazis. That’s my definition of victory because right now they enjoy social acceptability. You have already taken the first step by being here tonight. This is where it starts, and then it becomes bigger and wider. However, right now the other side has the social acceptability. That is the entry into polite society. It’s almost difficult to preserve your place in polite society when you speak for Israel. That has to be reversed. That is the essence of victory.
And we will win, ultimately. After making many mistakes in the process, and after it is going to take us quite a few years, but we will win for the same reason we have won all the other wars and challenges: because we have no choice. Ultimately, I will say that if there is any war that the Jewish people and their friends around the world should be able to win, it is a war of words.
Thank you."

Monday, 2 February 2015


When did the 'wipe' take over our lives?

Back in the day there was this thing in a plastic canister called 'Wet Ones' which could be used on the go to clean hands or faces or, if you risked it, babies' bottoms , because they could kind of spark off a decent nappy rash; they were a bit acidic or not acidic enough, or they had some preservative, something. Also the packaging meant that you could easily get tour finger stuck in the dispensing outlet, trying to pull out a recalcitrant sheet, and it wouldn't let go without gouging you, the cross cut pieces of plastic acting as finger trap.

Finally, there was the flat pack interleaved style of wipe, rather than the perforated joined ones which meant that, instead of pulling out an endless festoon of wipes, and then needing a third hand to detach one or two while holding a wriggly baby on the change table, one could just pull out one wipe at a time. Usually. And then the wipes got bigger and thicker and more de luxe, until we have today's offering which can not only gently clean a baby's delicate tushie, it can also spot clean food stains on ties or lapels, clean faces and hands, actually, clean almost anything.

But we don't need to use baby wipes to clean the house with because there are 1001 other kinds of wipes for home and personal use. It's gotten a little out of hand.

For example, in my toilet, there is one drawer with flushable adult tushie wipes for that oh-so-clean finish; and in another drawer, I have flushable toilet cleaning wipes, just to touch up the porcelain between cleans. DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT confuse the two. That's why I keep them in separate drawers; you do not want White King on your delicate areas.

In my bathroom I also have make-up removing wipes, which do speed up the night time facial routine but you're a fool if you think that they really clean your skin, because all they do is take off most of the makeup; if you want clean, toned and moisturised skin, then that takes a bit more effort, ladies. Sorry.

In my laundry are antibacterial wipes, Gd knows what for, as if there isn't enough chemical residue on kitchen surfaces; stainless steel cleaning wipes (they don't work); leather cleaning wipes (ditto) and glass cleaning wipes which claim to be streak-free! (they're not). Clearly this foursome won't be replaced when they run out/dry out from lack of use.

I've seen wipes for little faces, little hands and little eyes. I've certainly used my share of 'moist towelettes' on planes.

And I have also seen the most useless invention ever created: the baby wipes warmer. So babykins doesn't get a chill when you clean her bot-bot. This is up there with knee protectors for crawling infants as a symbol of how clinically anxious parents are creating a generation of namby-pamby kids who will have no tolerance for any level of physical and mental discomfort, and eventually will out-anxious their parents. Not to mention, it's another way to make money off new parents.

I think it's time to reclaim the 'Damp Cloth' aka 'Shmatta'.
Think about it! A cloth, e.g., old torn up T-shirt or flannel nappy (remember those?) dampened with warm water is actually very effective in cleaning little kids' faces and hands! If you keep one end dry, then you can use that to dry said body parts after! Revolution.

And a Shmatta is great for wiping down porcelain, kitchen surfaces, high chairs, you name it. You can use plain water! Or some sort of mild cleaning spray! You don't need 'antibacterial' products because they are actually counter-productive. If you kill '99% of germs' that means that you are leaving 1% of the real tough buggers alive, and they will reproduce, and through a process of selection, over time you will eventually create Super Germ. You are much better off just washing your hands and things with soapy water and rinsing and drying. Bacteria can't grow on dry surfaces.

I will, however, concede as to the vast superiority of the modern baby wipe for cleaning poo-ey baby bums, especially when on the go. I think we will keep those. And the adult tushie wipes. (Although they probably aren't so great for the environment, but that's a whole other topic.) But it's either those, or everyone gets bidets. And that won't happen.

But apart from that, maybe it's time to wipe the wipes?

Saturday, 24 January 2015


‘Booba, what’s wrong with your back?’

My very tactile 9 year old grand-daughter had climbed into the snug space between the chair back and my back, as she likes to do, when she asked me this.
She put her hand on my upper back, near the nape.
‘Why is it like that?’
‘Like what?’
‘Like’- she nimbly wriggled out from behind me and stood so I could see her, and then hunched her shoulders and stuck her chin forward- ‘that.’
My posture.
My ‘rounded shoulders’.
My delightfully named ‘dowager’s hump’.
My age.

About 5 years ago, ever the observant one, she pointed to my arms and said:
‘Booba, what’s that?’
‘What’s what? My arms?’
‘Yes your arms! They’re so – squishy!’
Quick inspection and shake of upper arms. Correct assessment. Squish factor high. And wobble also.
‘Well, umm, that’s what happens when you are a booba. You …grow…wings! Because, because…boobas can FLY!’
‘Well…not really…not yet... Hey, look at that pretty princess in that book! How about I read you a story!’

But for a year or so after that, she kept poking my upper arms – through my sleeves and all- and asking when I would fly.

Right now, as I sit here at the keyboard, my right knee hurts, and my thumb joints hurt and my left hip hurt so much all day that I had to give in and take some ibuprofen. And I have recently recovered from a nasty tendinitis of my right wrist. My tummy’s gurgling and I have heartburn. I just had all the kids and grandchildren over for dinner and I did a barbecue, and that kind of food does me no favours. Not to mention the effect of the ibuprofen. Please, Gd, no reflux tonight, OK? I’ll take a Pariet if I have to.

The hip thing. I’ve been to my massage therapist, and an osteopath, and I do stretches, and it comes and goes. It affects my gait at times, and my 79-year-old Mother-in-law has pointed out, correctly, that I walk like an old woman! She, of course, does not.

One area of my gum is swollen, and when I brush my (yellowed) teeth like crazy, or press on it with my finger, there is an icky taste. Despite my regular visits to dentist and periodontist. And no doubt, along with the icky taste is an icky smell. An old person smell. But one can’t smell oneself, so I’m just making an educated guess.

I don’t want to talk about my lady bits, and what my father would have called ‘women’s trouble’. But there’s trouble.

I am 59.

When my mother was my age, she walked with a stick and she had an upper denture. And a pronounced dowager’s hump. She was OLD.

When my grandmother was my age, she had been dead for 4 years. I never knew her.

It seems that the women in my maternal line don’t age well.
As for my paternal line- who knows, most were murdered by the Nazis. My dad was kind of sprightly until his late  70’s and then went downhill with a whoosh.

But I’m a Baby Boomer! We’re supposed to stay young forever!

When did this all start happening?!

About 15 years ago I went to a dermatologist with one of my kids and while I was there, I pointed to my right upper eyelid which had gone a bit crinkly, and asked, what’s going on here? I just noticed this a few days ago, like, what’s up with that? And the doctor laughed in my face. He thought I was joking about the effects of age on my skin, as if it was a joking matter.

And that’s what it was, ageing skin. And I look after my skin, you should know. I use sunscreen, and have ever since it was invented, which was actually too late for me because I was in my late teens by then, and had had a few decent sunburns. But I don’t give up easily; I use sunscreen every day. That’s probably why I’m low in Vitamin D. So I take supplements.

And I swim, and I do water aerobics, and I have a personal trainer and I lift weights.

But in spite of Pilates past, and yoga, and zumba, and bellydancing, I have an old lady hump and old lady joints and old lady breath and wrinkly eyes and wobbly bits. And the wings: Sorry, dear grand-daughter, I was kidding; they can’t fly me anywhere. They just kind of flap and wobble, despite all the laps in the pool and the weights in gym.

It’s not fair. It’s excruciating.

But at least I’m still here to complain about it all. And it only gets worse!  Great!

I conclude with the immortal words of Paul Newman: ‘Getting old ain’t for sissies.’

I'll try not to be such a sissy then. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Nanna, not nanny.

strange thing is happening to me as I get older; I think more and more of my parents, my mother especially. I think of how I never had any grandparents, and on top of that, my mother did not live long enough to be a grandmother to my children. So it turns out that I have had no role models for being a grandmother, and I don't know how to be one; I'm learning on the job. I have ruminated about this before but it's not over.

So recently I had a piece published on Kveller which drew down some wrath from 2 major groups: those in defence of Stay At Home Moms (SAHM) (read on and you will see why); and some other grandmothers who berated me for not appreciating the wonder and privilege of being a grandmother. Without exception, the irate grannies had 1-2 little grandkids and not a whole passel, as I do thank G-d. And I certainly DO appreciate the privilege and honour! I'm not complaining! G-d forbid!

I thought I would publish again, but this time without the edits imposed. Let's see if it makes things better or worse! I must warn you that I will be exploring the Grandmother theme again, basically until I get it out of my system.
Here goes:

I know this lady, let’s call her Eva, who has several grown children, all of whom have blessed her with grandchildren. She cannot do enough for them. Whenever I see her she is about to pick her daughter’s children up from school, or take her son’s to the dentist, or is planning a big birthday bash for one of them, or taking the home for baths and dinner, and she seems very happy to do this. One time she was limping after she had an injury, but there she was, on her way to school pickup. She is a retired SAHM. Her kids have careers or jobs, although one daughter-in-law doesn’t, and she clearly has no sense of being used. Which I think she is.

I always look at her with a mixture of pity and awe.

We are very different. She is a sweet sort of lady and I am not. I’m not a gooey, super-affectionate type. I’m into competence and capability and problem-solving and have had to teach myself to be less Mr Spock (as my children used to refer to me) and more Mr Rogers, so to speak, more empathetic and emotionally responsive. I also have a profession which I have always practiced less than full-time since becoming a mother, but it still keeps me pretty busy.

So when my kids started having kids, well, at first, no problem because the first crop lived overseas, so all I had to do was visit a few times a year bearing gifts, and Skype a little, which always gets tricky when the baby is old enough to start bashing the keyboard and trying to fling the laptop on to the floor. And phone calls with not much talking at first, apart from heavy breathing and the occasional ‘dah’ on the other end, evolving over the years to proper conversations and singing and being sung ‘Happy birthday to yoooo’. Just adorable.

But then they moved to Melbourne. And then some other kids did, and others got married, and now I have 7 grandchildren living here (and 4 overseas) thank G-d, they should all be well.

And slowly the demands started coming in; ever so gently, but they kept coming. Can I pick up from school? Something’s come up. Can I come to the house? The babysitter has to leave, the mum is held up. Can I do this? Can I go there? And remember that in 2 cases, I am the only accessible grandmother, because all but one of my kids married Americans, so I’m the Go-to Granny.

What to do? All I knew was that I did NOT want to be like Eva. I did not want to be hobbling around with a toddler in tow, on my way to pick up kids from school, and then bring them home and give them dinner and bath them so they would be in their jim-jams all nice and clean for Mummy to come and pick up. Every day.

No thank you. No matter how adorable my grandchildren are, believe me when I say that I have done my time in Mummyland, and I am all Mummied-out. My 7 th and last child was already rather sloppily mothered because I was kind of over it, and that was over 20 years ago.

I reflected on how much help I got from my mother when I had young children- sadly, almost none; she died when my eldest (twins) were 4, and she had been sick for some time before then. And from my mother-in-law? Zero. She had 3 daughters of her own who also were having kids, and I was just not on her list. My husband was working long hours so I had paid help or I had no help, but I was always strong and capable, and I got the job done, including after-school music lessons and swimming and sport etc.
And I won’t go back there.

BUT. I also know that I want to be a part of my grandchildren’s lives. So the time came to lay down some ground rules:

11    I will do anything in an emergency. I have taken kids to the emergency room when their mum is stuck with babies and dad is stuck in traffic. That’s life, stuff happens, and I will be there if at all possible.

  2   I will do pickups from school, or look after toddlers, but NOT every day and not so that mummy can go to Pilates. And I need at least 3 days notice, so I can clear my diary. (Emergencies excluded, refer to 1)

33    I will not be used as a regular babysitter, or a night time babysitter so mum and dad can go out. Get a high school kid. Make your own arrangements. I also like to go out for dinner, you know.

44   I respect a mum who is studying or working more than one who is a SAHM, sorry, so I will be more generous with bending the rules when the pressure is on with work deadlines or exams etc. Hate me if you want, but that’s how I feel. Please note, I do NOT disrespect any mother who is doing the hard work of mothering! And yes, all mums need a break from time to time. But surely there is an extra degree of difficulty if she is doing all the mum-stuff AND she has to sit exams or prepare a brief or deal with patients phoning after hours etc. (I know all about that!) I hope I make that clear; please don't hate me TOO much.

55   I will do stuff that I am good at and enjoy. I do not enjoy and neither am I good at, taking kids to the parks and playing boisterous ball games and chasey. I am not one of these youthful sprightly types. Fortunately, I am good at cooking so I will do pizza night once a week for all the families, and I will do Sunday brunch for anyone who comes, and Shabbat meals. I will even drop in dinners if mum is under the weather. I will also take every opportunity to read to the kids; it was my favourite thing to do with my own kids and it still is.

66   I will look after the kids, including having them move in and stay for days or weeks, if one or both parents have to go overseas for family reasons. That’s part of having daughters and sons-in-law from America. There are other families over there who also need to see their kids, there are weddings and simchas, and there are illness and funerals, and they have to go, so I will hold the fort, and have done so many times.

77    When we go on family vacations, I am not there to look after the kids while mummy and daddy have pina coladas on the beach. Do your research and find a local.

My late mother used to joke that she had a sign near the front door for when grandchildren came to visit. On one side was written ‘Baruch HaBah’ (Welcome). And when they left, she would flip it to the other side, which read ‘Baruch HaShem’ (Thank G-d). Not such a joke, really.

I have had my son and daughter-in-law and their 4 kids move into my home for 9 months while they were renovating their home. Yes, you read that right. NINE MONTHS. And we all worked together like a well-oiled machine. I mostly kept my mouth shut and didn’t bang on about the clutter and the general lack of organization, and we shared dinner preparations etc etc, and I read to the kids most nights which was such a pleasure. And it was work, though it really deepened my relationship with the kids; but OMG I was pleased to see them leave. Baruch HaShem.

So maybe Eva loves her life as a grandmother who seems to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting of parenting; but not this little black duck.
I wonder how many parents of young kids are using their own parents a little too freely, in a little too unthinking a manner. And I wonder how many grandparents are taking it, because they are guilted or otherwise manipulated into it.

Nothing is more important than family, and the happy chaos of family get-togethers is such a pleasure. But please, respect the grandparent-grandchild bond. Baruch HaBah! Baruch HaShem.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Happy 2015. I think.

I want to write. There is so much to write about ; so much happening; so many things I feel I need to comment on, elaborate on, explain, explore. But it's been weeks since I did anything but post comments on other people's work on Facebook.
Firstly, I was overseas, and I thought I could write on my phone; but that never happened because my phone, with its stupidly small memory (16 Gig iPhone 6 plus, don't even ask) didn't even want to take photos unless I made room by deleting half my apps. So nix on the blogging.
And then, there's all this other stuff that gets in the way of my creative life, like my children, all grown but still; and grandchildren; and husband (even on holiday it's always 'what are we doing for lunch? Dinner? What's the plan?' Make yourself a f***ing sandwich, you infantilised kitchen moron, I said to him NEVER.) And do you know what I will never, ever hear from him? Or anyone else? 'There you go, take a few uninterrupted hours to gather your thoughts and write. Unleash your creative wit! I'll take care of everything else, I'll answer the phone, I'll make sure you aren't interrupted every 5 minutes by other people's demands on you. Or my own.' That's NEVER going to happen. I know that.
(Right now, Sunday, I am sharing the study with my husband who has perfectly good earphones but still listens to music out loud, until I had to tell him to use the earphones or turn it off. I can't stand having music on while I work, especially some sucky crap that he was listening to. So blessed peace at last.)
And then the heartsink of it all. The state of the world, the murder of children, of innocents, by terrorist scum, and worse, the pretending that there's no specific anti-Semitism, or Islamism, it's just a bunch of criminal 'lone wolves' who all happen to be radicalised Muslims, all with the 'Allahu Akbar' and killing in the name of Islam. That the targeting of a kosher supermarket in a Jewish area of Paris by Muslim terrorists was not specifically anti-Semitic because Muslims also shop there. That the one Jewish woman killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack, among 13 men, was killed because she was a Jew; all the other women were spared, the killer even said that they don't kill women. So Jews being killed because they are Jews and THE WHOLE F***ING WORLD SHOULD STAND UP AND SAY 'THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN!' BUT THEY DON'T. They hem and haw and find excuses. And the pope, the POPE! Defending the actions of the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo staff because 'If you insult my mother, expect a punch.' WTF??? So it's OK to kill satirists? Or anyone who insults or mocks or jokes about your religion? You bastard, I was just starting to like you what with the breastfeeding thing and all.
There are many other writers who are far more knowledgeable and articulate than I am; the number of articles I have read and reposted, and I'm sure that you have all read, is enormous. So what am I going to write about; I'm not a politician or a historian or a social demographer or a government official. I'm just a heartsick, angry Jew.

I just got back from travels to visit children and grandchildren. 18 days in Israel, 4 days in New York, and then, 3 days in Berlin. The Berlin bit was tacked on even though it makes little sense geographically because our ticket had us going through Frankfurt on the way home, and we have a friend in Berlin, Rabbi Yudi Teichtal, who had been nudging us to come visit for a while. It was no big deal to go from Frankfurt to Berlin; arrive Thursday, tour Friday, Shabbat started early, 4pm, then spend the Friday night dinner and Shabbat lunch with the rabbi and rebbetzin, and then fly out Sunday morning. Originally we were going to tour Sunday as well and fly out Monday, but hubby and I looked at each other and thought that too much Germanness would make our Second Generation Holocaust survivor heads explode, and we took the get-out-early option.

So on Friday, we took in a lot of touring. We had a Jewish guide who was excellent, Monica Puginier. Unfortunately the weather was inclement, very wet and windy, so we were hopping in and out of the car quick smart, but we started at Platform 17 and then on to the Brandenburg Gate, Unter Den Linden, Checkpoint Charlie, remnants of the Wall (now protected by a fence! Ha!), the rebuilt Golden Dome Synagogue (I can't remember the official title but it must have been something to see before it was destroyed on Kristallnacht), the Holocaust Memorial with all the concrete blocks (stelae) and museum, the Topography of Terror museum (dedicated to the history and rise of the Nazis and SS- no artefacts and nothing that you couldn't learn from the book we bought) and the Jewish Museum.
The Jewish museum was interesting in that it documented over 1,000 years of Jewish life in Germany (hey, we aren't called Ashkenazim for nothing, and it's no coincidence that Yiddish is so similar to German), and there was  also a special exhibit about Brit Milah (Circumcision) which was advertised so crassly that I was too offended to even look, apart from the fact that Shabbat was approaching and we were running out of time. The brochure had a picture of a circumcised banana with the caption 'Snip/it!' in English and something else in German. I could only surmise that the curator was not Jewish because I couldn't imagine a Jew taking that sort of flip approach to Brit Milah.

While we were at the Brandenburg Gate we saw the French Embassy in Unter den Linden; the tri-couleur flag was at half-mast- all the flags in the city were at half-mast- after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. There was a condolence book to sign and there were bouquets laid on the ground. And meanwhile, the Hyper-Cacher atrocity was being carried out.

A few hours later, the Rabbi picked us up and was telling us that his eldest son, a Yeshivah student in Brunoys, near Paris, had been stranded in Paris that afternoon, because the Metro had been shut down due to the terrorist attacks. He and his friends were trying to get back to the Yeshivah before Shabbat. He tried to flag down a taxi, but the cabs that stopped had Arab drivers and the boys were too scared to get in. Anyway, they managed to get back in time, much to the relief of the parents. And I reflected, what a strange day, when a Jew can feel safer in Berlin than in Paris.

As for our fear of Deutsche Freak-out Syndrome, it didn't happen. All the people we met were friendly and polite and nobody sounded like Hitler. We did stay at a fancy hotel (Kempinski Bristol- tiny bit of the Grand Hotel Budapest vibe, with the smartly liveried bellboys and excruciatingly helpful and polite concierge) and I tend to tip (even the Zimmer Madch left a little note saying 'Danke' - so I'm thinking I was tipping too much, but I don't care, a few extra euros won't make me poor and it won't make her rich, and I'm a one-per-center and whatever) so yes, everyone polite and friendly and also with the 'Shalom' and 'Boker tov', so in their minds all Jews are Hebrew speaking and might as well be Israeli. But all was well and the paranoia didn't get the better of me. After Shabbat we went with the Teichtals to a Schloss, talk about POINT one-percenters that used to own it, some nobility, with the high ceiling and huge fireplaces, oil paintings and damask wallpapers, ornate carvings and what-have-you, and we had drinks. We were greeted by an enormous liveried Aryan dude who shook the Rabbi's hand and bowed from the waist- I though he was going to click his heels and kiss my hand- and welcomed us warmly to the schloss, no irony detected, everyone is Rabbi T's friend, it seems! Amazing guy.

So Berlin was interesting. And Ms Angela Merkel is a good person. My kids are great. My grandchildren are adorable. But the world sucks.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Spread a little light

I just arrived in Jerusalem and heard that the Martin Place Chanukah menorah lighting has been cancelled in the aftermath of the Lindt Cafe terrorist siege in Sydney during which 17 people were taken hostage, 2 of whom were killed, by a self professed 'sheikh' with a long criminal rapsheet including accessory to murder and 40 counts of sexual assault. 
At first, I, along with many others, thought of this criminal murderer in terms of his criminality rather than his religion. He was a baddy who did this deed as a crazy 'lone wolf', and the fact that he put a Muslim declaration of faith up in the shop window , and apparently asked for an ISIS flag as part of his demands, was sort of brushed aside. 
I have since changed my mind. 
During the siege, even before the siege was over and the 2 victims were killed, we had this ridiculous #I'll ride with you campaign cooked up by some leftard - sorry, but there really are times when this pejorative term needs to be used- in Brisbane, who was riding on a bus and saw a Muslim woman fiddle with her headscarf and take it off. The observer cooked up a scenario in her mind, without actually speaking with the Muslim woman, that maybe she took it off because she was afraid of a backlash against Muslims and so she thought, no, I will protect you, Muslim sister, from the depredations of us racist Australians. I will ride with you in a bus without spitting on you. And the hashtag spread and everyone though how beautiful it all was. We hashtaggers aren't racist, like the other right wing Aussies.  We protect minorities, not like they do.  Aren't we wonderful people. 
I think everyone forgot who the real victims were. They were the hostages and the murdered cafe manager who was killed trying to disarm the terrorist; and the lawyer, who left 3 motherless children. They actually were the victims. The Muslims were not.  
So that's a couple of points I would like to make. Australians on the whole are tolerant people and are not likely to burn crosses or crescents or whatever on lawns and lynch Muslims etc. And Muslims were not the victims in the Lindt cafe seige. 
Then we saw this public outpouring of grief through floral tributes laid in Martin Place at the scene of the crime. Every florist ran out of stock. The photos looked amazing. Of course, the flowers will all rot and it will be a big job to clear the place in a few days, and what will be left? Nothing. I'll come back to that in a minute. 
Then came in all the analyses and reassurances from police and politicians and pundits. This was not an act of Muslim terror. This was a crazy criminal 'lone wolf', who did what he did because he was a baddy. (If he was so bad, why was he out on parole or on bail, free to plan and execute this attack? Hmm. That's a good question.) No, it was not because he was a Muslim. No no no. We mustn't think that (or I guess there will be a terrible backlash against the poor old Muslims). 
(And we know what happens when Muslims feel offended and insulted so hush, let's keep the peace. I'm sure there was some thought process like that going on in someone's head.)
Well, all I can say is that there seems to be a lot of these 'lone wolves' about. There was one in the Canadian parliament, and 2 who murdered Lee Rigby in the streets of Manchester, and the shrink who shot up Fort Hood and killed 14 US Army personnel - he was a lone wolf too, despite evidence in his email account where he was pledging jihad against the infidel- and there was the plot to randomly behead an infidel in Sydney which was thwarted, and the Arabs who ran down people waiting at light rail stops and bus stops in several incidents in Israel, and the 2 who murdered 4 rabbis at prayer in Har Nof in Jerusalem, leaving 14 fatherless children, and all of these lone wolves - so many that I don't know if the word 'lone' really applies- have one thing in common. Have a guess. No cigars for guessing the answer- they are all Muslims. And they have all taken it upon themselves after being incited by radical Muslim clerics and interpretations of Koranic verses, to attack infidels wherever and whenever they encounter them, Jews, Christians, in Israel and abroad. 
You can continue to pretend that these people are not motivated by religion to kill- oh well, of course in Israel it is about the resistance to the occupation, right? Wrong. It's about Muslim incitement to fight The Other, especially the Yahud. 
So keep pretending , but be prepared for more of these 'lone wolf' attacks because the incitement is not stopping any time soon. 
I can't help but compare the response  among Jews to the horrific attacks which have been perpetrated on them, to the Martin Place floral tributes, which make a strong statement but which are ultimately ephemeral. In every case, after every act of terrorism, the bereaved Jewish families urge people to give more tzedakah in the name of the victim, or to do more mitzvot, or to increase their level
of prayer and religious observance. Or they establish charitable foundations to help other families of victims of terror or other good causes. The Har Nof Shul was cleared of the blood staining the walls and the floor the very next day after this heinous attack, and more people have been attending  and studying there than ever before. 
This is also a form of resistance against the darkness that is closing in. This is all in the name of trying to make the world a better place. 
I strongly believe that it is a terrible mistake to cancel the menorah lighting in Martin Place. If there was ever a time that we need to see more light, it is now. The kindling of the lights reminds us of the miracle of the oil, and that is how we celebrate Chanukah; but Chanukah means 'dedication'. We rededicated the Temple to Hashem after the miracle of the victory of the few over the many; but we don't dwell on the military aspects of the festival which enabled the rededication and the miracle of the oil. We Jews don't really gloat about military victories. To paraphrase R Adin Steinsaltz, we don't put swords in our windows to celebrate, we put menorahs. We add more lights and more lights, for every night of Chanukah, because that is how you push away the darkness. 
Happy Chanukah to all, and may the families of the victims of terror be comforted.