Monday, January 23, 2012

Sometimes a French fry is just a French fry

So, I took Iyyar to get his speech therapy evaluation last Thursday. It was about what I expected, although I didn't realize his Hebrew was quite as bad as it is. The therapist seemed really taken aback when I told her how long we'd been here. "A year and a half? And he's been in a Hebrew educational framework the entire time? He can't even put a correct sentence together." Good news: he qualifies for speech therapy with, uh, flying colors. Bad news: there is a waiting list of several months (months!! I am looking now at the original forms we submitted for all of this and they are dated July...) and even when his turn comes up, he'll be getting an hour a week of therapy with the expectation of an hour a day at home of 1:1 attention from a Hebrew-speaking adult.


The good thing that came from it though was that the speech therapist was nice, and I took advantage of this by saying, look, why is nothing happening here? I brought along the eval with the referrals for various services he got in mid-December, and I said, he has gotten none of this, nobody has even called us with an appointments, I don't know who to talk to and every time I call it takes an hour to be told someone will call me, eventually. Which they don't do. The therapist was, to give her credit, horrified by this and said "But he needs help now!" to which I was, with difficulty, able to respond by politely agreeing instead of by banging my head on the pint-sized table I was sitting at.

Sunday morning the phone rang, and it was the psychologist, telling me that she had never gotten any of the messages I had left (which I know isn't true, because the speech therapist opened up a screen that showed all the messages I'd left WITH check boxes next to them showing she'd seen them) and telling me that Iyyar's report was ready and did I want to come in next week to pick it up. I said, can you fax it today? and she said, well, it's a lot of pages (for the record: "a lot" in this case = three) and why don't you come pick it up? Next week? I said, how about today? And she said, ok, can you come in at 11? It was 9:45 and I looked at my watch and said yes I could, so I went straight out the door.

So, I don't want this to turn into a giant long post, but in a nutshell (coconut shell?): there were no surprises so far as the cognitive stuff, except that his Hebrew is really bad (which I knew at that point) and he has some specific learning/cognitive issues (attention/speed of processing/attention/organization of thought) that she seemed to think were worse than I did, but having seen the testing taking place I also knew that he'd been pretty stressed during the testing itself and that never helps. The cognitive stuff was all testing that had taken place while I was there; the psychological/emotional testing had happened while I was in the US, and Mr. Bigfoot had been there.

Yeah. That.

So... how much stock does the field of child psychologist generally put in child apperception testing these days? Because... well. First she started telling me that she'd shown Iyyar pictures and that how he described them gave a window to how he perceived the world. Okay, fair enough. Then she started telling me that he felt small and insignificant, exploited (exploited??) by adults, that he wasn't being nurtured adequately, that parental figures were distant and absent and that authority figures were frightening. I said... uh. Where are you getting this from? She asked me if I wanted to see the pictures and I said yes.

First picture: three little chickens at a table happily tucking into bowls of food. Shadowy hen in background. Iyyar said, as best as I can recall: "The baby chickens are eating the food. They like it and they're happy. The mother is walking." Interpretation: because he did not say that the mother gave the food, the mother is not being seen as a source of nurturing. Instead of feeding them, she is WALKING.

But... she was. I mean, I saw the picture. I would have said the same thing.

And the rest of the pictures? They were scary. As in, I found them scary and I am 38! There was a huge toothy tiger about to attack a monkey, and it didn't look good for the monkey. There were two tiny bears huddled together in a crib in a dark shadowy room with a huge bed, empty except for an Ominous Lump under the covers. There was a big lion in a throne with a mouse visible in the corner in a mouse hole.

Everything Iyyar said seemed totally reasonable to me. He described the pictures. When asked to come up with more ideas, he said things like "Maybe the mouse wants to be friends but he's afraid the lion will eat him," and "The bear is sad because he got his fur cut, but it's OK, it'll grow back." I thought this was normal. The psychologist didn't. She also kept talking about how fixated he was on food. And food, see, it's not just food. It's everything a baby needs from a parent. It's nurturing, understanding, feeling understood. And Iyyar is NOT GETTING IT. How does she know this? Because he kept talking about food. Also, his thinking was all concrete and not abstract (he's five. You know he's five, right?) and he identified in every picture with the small/weak figure and not the large/strong figure (cf. "five" above). Oh, and he was much more relaxed with Mr. Bigfoot (visit two) than with me (visit one).

I walked out not being sure whether to be devastated or bewildered. Because I got the really, really strong impression that she thought that Iyyar's issues were due to my being a cold and absent mother and his being afraid of authority. And I may be many things, and I am sure I have MANY failings as a parent, but cold and absent? I... really don't think so.

Fast forward to home. I asked Mr. Bigfoot about this. "Oh. Yeah. Well, he didn't really want to go, so I told him that when we were done we would go out for lunch. We went and had schnitzel and French fries at the place down the street right after. He ate a huge amount so I think he might have been kind of hungry while we were there."

Oh. What about the pictures?

"Yeah, he wasn't so into them. He wanted to color them in, and she said that when they were done talking about them he could draw a picture. So he was kind of going through them as fast as possible so he could draw. And get French fries."

It's hard to write it off entirely, just because, well, who could? I know Iyyar doesn't feel understood and it is absolutely the case that I don't understand what is going on in his head. And if someone is sitting there in an office saying, we've tested your son and the results show that You Are A Rotten Mother, I don't think many people could take that with equanimity. Also, I got the really strong impression that she didn't think much of me or Mr. Bigfoot from the first meeting. Not sure why; just a personality clash, I think. I have a hard time with people who don't ever ever smile.

Anyway. Yeah. Gaaaaaaaaaaaaah. And French fries.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The post that is not a list

I don’t read very many blogs anymore. I used to read quite a few but one by one their authors stopped writing, or I lost interest for whatever reason. Most of the links on my sidebar are dead these days (and yes I should probably do something about that.)

In the meantime, one of the blogs I read is this one, and if you know me at all you can probably guess why I read it. Completely different life situations, very similar day-to-day issues. One of them being one of the tags she uses: parental jealousy.

I am having a lot of that right now, as I often do late in pregnancy and even more when I have a new baby. I am finding it a lot harder here. I live somewhere that it is pretty common for women to have babies. Pretty much everyone here, with only a few exceptions, is either pregnant or has a new baby or is too recently married for either. This was also the case last year. And every time someone has a baby, without exception, there is family. Certainly a mother, often both parents, and frequently two sets of parents in turn. One of the women here had a baby about six week ago; she had her mother-in-law here already to take care of her daughter (who is in Marika’s gan) while she was in the hospital, and then a few days later her mother flew in and stayed for a MONTH, and her sister is in seminary nearby and was able to help out a lot too. I saw her a couple of weeks after giving birth and she looked… amazingly well rested. There is only one woman here who didn’t have that kind of luxury, and she had her mom visit for “only” a week postpartum; her mom works and couldn’t take off longer. I think her in-laws also came although I didn’t ask.

And you know, they don’t even think of it as luxury, so far as I can tell. It’s just a normal thing that normal mothers do. Apparently. Not that I would know.

And I am jealous. Which is actually a little bit out of character for me, broadly speaking, because I am pretty good at not coveting anything I know I can’t have.

For example: Mr. Bigfoot went to pay a shiva visit a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t go because it wasn’t practical; someone needed to be home with the kids and it made more sense for him to be the one to go, since the avel was more a friend of his. He came back and said, later, it’s just as well you didn’t go. You didn’t need to see that huge fancy house. And I was completely taken aback by this, because a) I wouldn’t be thinking about that at a shiva house anyway and b) truthfully, I have no problem with big fancy houses. I don’t covet them. It doesn’t bother me that other people have them. Yes, it bothers me—sometimes it bothers me a lot—that we live the way we do, but I don’t look at anyone in a big fancy house and say, “I want that.” I don’t want it and it doesn’t bother me that other people have it. It’s so beyond what is realistic for us that it doesn’t even enter into my thinking.

What does bother me is seeing things that I feel should be realistic for us given where we are in our lives but are still so totally out of reach. Like when we stayed, over the summer, for Shabbos in the house of friends of friends. It was a regular house, not huge, but it would have been perfect for us; smallish but totally adequate kitchen, comfortable living/dining room with lots of space for bookshelves and a nice bright playroom off to the side, a little office off the kitchen that would have been exactly right for me. Most of the furniture obviously acquired secondhand. Three bedrooms, two of them quite small but big enough for bunk beds and a crib. One and a half baths.

And somehow, the fact that it was a little bit run down, the bathrooms old and cramped, that there were water marks in the ceilings and floor tiles that were chipped and doors that didn’t quite close, and the kitchen was in the “small but workable” category—this made me wildly, ragingly, disturbingly jealous. Because that should be realistic for us, and yet it is still so completely out of reach for us right now. Right now, a second toilet, a bathtub, and a kitchen with a stove are the stuff of fantasy. And a house? Belonging to us? I might as well wish for the moon.

Or for parents.

Which I do. I am jealous. I know that I am independent by nature and generally want to do things by myself. I’m not used to being taken care of and I don’t expect it. Mostly, it’s enough for me that I am getting to take care of other people, which I waited so long to do. And I have a husband who really does take amazingly good care of me. It should be enough. But right around now, when it’s getting hard to walk, hard to sleep, when everything aches and there is so much to do, and it’s not easy to keep up already, and I don’t even know who’s going to watch the kids when I have to go to the hospital and it’s not at all out of the question that I’m going to have to go give birth by myself because there won’t be anyone but Mr. Bigfoot… the thought of a mother, the kind that would swoop down and take care of the kids and clean up and do baths and go grocery shopping for me, like they do for the other women here… yeah. It would be nice.

Like a lot of things that are just not going to happen. And I need to get over it. Again.

Moving right along...

I had my third-trimester ultrasound today. Yes! Third-trimester ultrasound! I’ve never had one of those before, since they don’t, you know, do them in America. B”H it was all fine. The kids had a good day, and although Iyyar got off to an unusually rough start this morning, he was doing much better later on. The ultrasound took a lot longer than I expected, because they were running really late, but I still got home with enough time to take a nap before Mr. Bigfoot left for the afternoon. And he got the boys from gan, and he also got Marika for me, so I could sleep.

By the way, I feel like I have been doing Mr. Bigfoot an injustice by more or less leaving him out of the blog most of the time. I don’t want to give the impression that he’s an absentee father, because he so isn’t. He gets up at 6 every morning, davens vasikin, and takes Barak to the bus. I get up around when he leaves, at about 7:30, and start getting Iyyar and Avtalyon up, and then Mr. Bigfoot walks them up the 88 steps to their gan. All I have to do is get Marika ready in the morning, which is easy as she is pretty delightful when she wakes up, and then walk the ten minutes of flat ground to her gan. Mr. Bigfoot even packs lunches. He does the laundry. He deals with the pee on the bathroom floor when the boys miss. He picks up the boys from gan four days a week and often gets Marika too. And he stops at the makolet on the way back from dropping off Barak, if I need him to, and gets milk or bread or whatever else we’ve run short of between big grocery shops and shuk runs. Me? I don’t even always have dinner on the table for him. Most days, but not every day by any stretch.

So, not fair to say I don’t have help. I totally do. And one of the huge advantages of our current situation is that he’s rarely very far away, and most of the time available in case of emergency. If I really really need him, I can call him and he can come home. I don't, in general, but I know I can if I have to. It’s not minor.

And it will be OK. I don’t need parents to be OK. The kids don’t need their biological grandparents in their lives to be OK. We will have a place to live and food to eat and they’ve already got a lifetime supply of Playmobil.

Iss okay, Imma. Iss just fine.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Why is it that Israeli phlebotomists--every single one I have encountered--are SO MUCH BETTER than phlebotomists in America? Before we came here, every time I needed to get blood drawn, I heard about how small/deep/scarred/difficult/uncooperative my veins were. And got stabbed lots of times and often still didn't come up with enough blood for whatever it was. I can remember at least twice taking kids for blood draws and winding up with traumatized children and no bloodwork. Here? I go in, I feel a pinch and about a minute later there's a wad of cotton in the crook of my elbow. Today I went to get my 1-hour glucose test and saw a toddler getting blood drawn; he was mad about it, but you could tell just looking at it he was more indignant than anything else.


Anyway, the good thing about needing bloodwork is that the big Meuhedet is right next to the shuk, where I had the chance to load up on all kinds of good stuff. Strawberries are in season here now (in JANUARY. I love it) and I got a huge bag of gorgeous red peppers for NIS 3.90/kg (around 50 cents a pound or so). And lots of apples/cucumbers/onions/mushrooms/etc. And a big bag of squishy carbohydrates. Which is always, let's be honest, the best part of the shuk.

So I'm back home now and ten minutes to go before I pick Marika up at gan. It's Tuesday, so Barak should be home in about an hour, and Mr. Bigfoot is getting Avtalyon and Iyyar. And I need to think of something to do with everybody all afternoon. So I can nap when Marika does. It might be a video afternoon. I've given myself a little bit of a pass on the videos lately, as long as they're in Hebrew--it's educational, right?

Monday, January 09, 2012

In which unexpected developments continue to develop

Yet again, I don’t even know where to start.

I’ve been thinking for a while about things to post. There are lots of things to post about. Marika, for example, is being really funny. She is obsessed with the Israeli happy birthday song and wants me to play it (we have an Israeli kids’ music CD) nonstop. The song is one minute long, so there’s a limit to what a body can stand, but while it’s playing she’s a riot; she literally runs around in circles because she’s so excited. We also have a book with the words to the songs on the CD, and she finds the page with the happy birthday song and shows me. “Yoma yoma dedet mee mee!” That would be, “yom huledet sameach to me!”

Work is going fine. The Bituach Leumi thing has gotten marginally worse; I realized that the accountants (if you want the name of an English-speaking accountant to stay away from, email me privately) had screwed up yet again and submitted my 2011 income incorrectly, and my actual monthly withholding should be NIS 3,000. That, for the record, is a little bit less than we anticipated paying in rent next year. This whole thing has put all of the financial tribulations of the last year in perspective; the rest of it just paled in comparison.

Until Saturday.

What happened on Saturday, you ask?


So on Saturday night, I called back our former upstairs neighbor, who is the head of our condo board (there were only four apartments, he was the only other owner who spoke good English, and the two of us basically made all of the decisions together) and who had left me a couple of messages over the previous week. We’d been playing phone tag for a few days but finally caught each other late Saturday.

He started out with the good news: that the property tax appeal had gone through and the city had agreed to reduce our annual taxes by $300. Not much, but something, although we owed 1/3 of that to the lawyer who had done the appealing for us. Fine.

“And we’re going to do it again for the next property tax cycle because of the foreclosure,” he said.

The what? The foreclosure. There’s a foreclosure?

So. I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but one of the families in the building had been kind of problematic for a while. They did not pay their assessments, they had at least 10 people living up there, they did not maintain their apartment and they used an incredible amount of water. They also, apparently, were not paying their mortgage. We had gotten foreclosure papers sent to the condo association a couple of years earlier, but as of a few weeks ago, they were still there and said that it had been worked out; since they had obviously not gotten kicked out we believed them. But, the upstairs guy told me, their apartment was in fact foreclosed on in December. And sold at auction.

For $70,000.

Turns out they had not paid in THREE YEARS. Not only that, but the bank gave them money—thirty-eight THOUSAND dollars—to get out of their apartment by year’s end so that the bank could write off the loss in that tax year. So, almost nothing down, three years of free rent, and $38k to move out. Not bad, if the whole ethical issue doesn’t give you pause.

In the meantime? We paid almost the same for our apartment. Taxes have been doubled and we had to double the assessments as well. We have never missed or been late with a payment, and in fact made (before the crash) a lot of extra payments to principal too. We have a principal of $163k and monthly payments of $1608, counting the maintenance. We’re still paying them, even though the apartment (which is only partially rented out, because we still have all of our stuff there and I go back regularly) now loses us well over $400 a month. We’ve tried to refinance a few times but been told no: first off, our mortgage was sold to a private investor; second off, we have a perfect payment record and savings to boot, so why should the bank want to reduce our payments when we have proven ourselves perfectly capable of making them, and willing to do so even despite, well, everything? No reason at all. For us, the old rules still apply.

We did everything the way you’re supposed to. And because we’ve always played by the rules, we’ve lost so much money on that apartment I can’t even think about it. If we hadn’t bought that place, if we’d stayed in our old rental, we could have bought an apartment here with cash. As it is, we have this apartment that is nine thousand miles away that is sucking us dry and will continue to do so for as long as we remain responsible mortgage-payers.

So. I did the refinance paperwork, again, and explained the recent developments—the husband who has been unemployed for going on two years, the insurance that is now costing us $900/month out of pocket, the foreclosure upstairs. I also called a private mortgage broker today, to see if he had any other ideas. He suggested “letting it go.” As in, stopping payments and letting the bank take it. That, in his view, was the only reasonable course of action given our situation (which I described to him a bit more fully than I describe it on the internet). He agrees that it would make sense for the bank to reduce our payments and principal, but added that unfortunately the way these things work doesn’t often make sense.

Yeah. I’d noticed.

Remember how happy I was when we bought that place? I felt settled. I felt like a grownup. I loved painting the walls and putting in the shelves and feeling like I had my very own home. Like Grandma E said, we could never have imagined this then.

Somehow or other, this will be OK. I was IM’ing with my friend Shanna (who is a divorce lawyer) before and we both heartily agreed that it’s much better to need a real estate lawyer than a lawyer like her. It could be so much worse. It’s just money. Everyone is B”H healthy and we still have savings and I still have my job and somehow or other, b’ezrat Hashem it will be OK.

I joke sometimes that between me and my husband, I do the hishtadlus, he does the bitachon. I’ve done all the hishtadlus I can; now it’s just time for bitachon for both of us.