January 2008

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Leora Shirit tasting Ima's homemade chocolate cheesecake ice cream.

Raising a Mensch

Leora Turns Two
Tales of a single mother in Israel.

-- Marne Joan Rochester

Leora just turned 2. She is  so advanced – she started the Terrible Twos at one and a half. I am coming up with names for parenting books. The two top titles are "Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde" and "How I Became Bi-Polar." Before I became a parent, I would sometimes see a parent screaming at their kid and think "Get a grip. Get therapy." In my last building, because of a shaft that opened into everyone’s bathrooms, you could sometimes hear what was going on in other apartments. I would hear this mother sometimes yelling at her kids like a lunatic and sometimes talking to them in the most loving, affectionate way, and I would think "Is this the same person? Is this a sane person?" I now often hear this person in my own apartment, with my own child, and I think "What kind of parent am I? I am one of those that I looked down at with disdain." More and more Leora challenges me and more often than I would like to admit, I do not respond in the June Cleaver way I always imagined I would, and I doubt my capabilities as a parent. I sometimes think that even though no one could love her more than I, maybe someone could be a better mother to her than I.

Leora Shirit watching TV with Dubichew.
But then I see her playing with her "baby." She gently holds her and says "one, two, threeeee" and lifts her up and puts her in the high chair. Or she will strap her into the booster chair and try to feed her yoghurt and Cheerios. (She has also fed her toy duck Cheerios, and it is not easy to get them out.) She even tried putting sun-block on her baby a few times. When she pushes her in the stroller, she will stop and gently caress her face. She will hold it and kiss her feet and pulkes. Yesterday, she insisted on putting a sweater on her before going outside. She has even tried brushing her teeth a few times. When I see her doing these things then I know I must be doing something right. If this is what she sees is an Ima, then her Ima must be more Dr. Jeckel than Mr. Hyde.

Leora started gan (nursery school) in September. I wasn’t sure how she would do. She does not deal well with change and new people. But, bli ayin hara’ah (no evil eye), she is doing great. The first few days I stayed part of the time. When I would leave she would start crying and give me this look that said, "You gave birth to me and promised to love and protect me and now you are deserting me and throwing me to the wolves." It was as if she was reaching into my chest and squeezing my heart. The second week she would give me the look, but without crying. Now she walks into the gan on her own two feet and starts playing. Now I think, "Doesn’t she love me any more?" There is no pleasing a Jewish mother. The staff tells me how special she is. I do not know if they say that to all the parents, but I would like to believe that she is more special than the rest.

Leora Shirit playing at gan.
The language was another concern of mine. The gan is Hebrew speaking, and Leora is the only one from an English speaking home in her group. Leora’s daycare last year was English speaking and we speak English with a bit of Yiddish at home. But in the beginning the staff spoke to her in both English and Hebrew so she would not be too lost. Every day she’s talking more and more in Hebrew. Her first words were asur (forbidden), sheqet (quiet), Ima (Mom), and di (enough, as in the Passover song Dayenu). I am so proud of her; she can now tell me off in two languages. She also knows many animals in Hebrew now. When we read her Curious George book (from Uncle Andy) after her bath, she always says "Aifo pil?" (Where is the elephant) or "Aifo dinosaur" (Where is the dinosaur) and when we find the pages, she says "hinei" (here). Now the challenge is going to be to reinforce the English. Although, interestingly enough, since she started gan, she does not want to watch her Hebrew videos any more.

Leora is turning into a fearless monkey. She loves climbing and jumping. The more dangerous, the better. Whenever she sees big kids doing something, she has to try it herself. One of my nicknames for her is Little Miss Knevil.

At just two years, I can tell that she is going to make something of herself. She is both very smart and very stubborn --- a dangerous combination for a parent to deal with. She knows what she wants and does not give up until she gets it. She is very smart and very good at working with something until she figures out how it works and she is very good at problem solving. She does not give up. She sees me do something once and a few months later I will see her doing it. These qualities will get her far in life, and, hopefully, I will survive it.

Leora Shirit and Ima rolling out dough to make pita on a nature outing with her gan.
I am trying to raise Leora as an environmentally conscious person. We rarely use disposables (except for diapers). She got a copy of Dr. Seuss’s "The Lorax" for her birthday from Uncle Andy. The first time we watched I explained to her that it is bad to cut down the trees and that trees give us food and oxygen and are homes to animals and the Once-lers are evil for cutting down the trees and polluting the environment, and I said "Oh, no!" when there was a machine to cut down a lot of trees at once. Now whenever she sees that machine cutting down the trees, she shouts at the top of her lungs, "Oh, no!!!"

Previous Columns

Raising A Mensch Section Editor: Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston parenting @ pjvoice.com
Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston is a practicing pediatrician, associate professor of pediatrics and Scientific Director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She welcomes your comments, questions, contributions and suggestions for future columns.

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