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Sunday, December 18, 2016

The 12 Days of Christmas in the Holy Land

When you go to a co-existence school that includes all the pertinent ethnicities and religions in your geographic area, Christmas is likely to be a part of your curriculum. Hence, Raia and Lucas have been basking in Tis the Season for a few weeks now.
Raia's first encounter with Santa was actually with Baba Noel!
Note the decor in Raia and Lucas's classrooms (where I visited so I too could get my fill of holiday spirit). Raia's class also toured a church outside the Old City to ogle the Christmas decorations. This tour was replete with a visit from Baba Noel!

I visited Raia's classroom to get in the holiday mood
As you can see, a plethora of holidays are converging and colliding. Happy Hanukkah! 
Only in the Middle East: An olive tree
serves as the Christmas tree 
Not to be outdone: Lucas's classroom! 
And here is Raia coloring in her "Mother and Child' stained glass window!
But when you go to a kindergarten that happens to be reform Jewish, Christmas is "extracurricular"/spectacular. And everyone in the class makes a mandatory appearance at your Christmas party. Because everyone wants to know: What does a REAL Christmas tree look like? And by real, they mean, one not seen in the movies but in real life, like at my house. Because we have a real fake tree.

And so, with nary 48 hours until we would be leaving the country for more wintry climes (NY=White Christmas), my entire class (plus siblings and parents) was invited to our (relatively tiny) apartment for a Christmas celebration just 5 kilometers from where it all began!

Here's me opening the door to the humble
beginnings of the Ultimate Play Date 
Here's me 30 minutes later: I may have passed out from the
shock and overwhelming joy of hosting ALL
my friends at MY house at one time.
Shock. And awe.
Truth is, they all came for this photo op right here:
Rockefeller Center, move over!
That was about 50 people who mistook our humble Bethlehem Road (oh the irony of that name!) apartment for the Fifth Avenue department store windows!

I prefer to leave people guessing about how I am feeling, rather than use words to inform them. And this time, my parents guessed right that YES I would LOVE to host about  dozens of people in my home for a Christmas party. It probably started with how I enthusiastically ran around with my aide's phone at school one morning this week showing everyone photos of our decorated tree. That small gesture spawned one of the largest Christmas parties in the Jewish state since the birth of Jesus. Who was Jewish. But never mind. (This video might clear things up, or absolutely not, but may be really funny.)

It was a night of miracles, which characterize both Hanukkah and Christmas, making this party ever more significant. Here were just a few miracles from Saturday night:

  1. For the first time in their existence, every toy in our home was played with! (Most parents know that kids do not play with their own toys.) It was as if The Island of Misfit Toys was released from its bondage and all the toys were loved yet again.
  2. Not one toy was broken or missing! 
  3. The tree remained standing!
  4. My friend's baby sister's shoes were found the next day under the tree!
  5. We had more food and sugar than children to consume it all!
  6. More people drank mulled cider than spiced wine!! 

Since I don't use many words, my drop to the floor to sort of soak it all in was probably an indication that yes, I was in shock and awe and utter delight to host the ultimate play date/Christmas party.

Really what we took away as loot from this Ultimate Play Date/Christmas Party is that you don't always have to go to a coexistence school to be loved and accepted. Sometimes you just get lucky enough to be surrounded by the best friends that have all bonded together despite different religions and chromosomal pairings.

And that is what the spirit that birthed Christmas is all about! Merry Christmas everyone!

Utter chaos
Utter delight!
You could call it our first rave. Maybe. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Young babies, ancient places

At the Church of the Redeemer

This is how babies living in Jerusalem spend a day off from school: touring ancient churches and other sites that we cannot quantify because we still think 20 is "a lot."

Lucas and Raia, who attend a "coexistence" school in Jerusalem, had the day off for the prophet's birthday. They took the occasion to learn more about Christmas and the history of Jesus in the Holy Land.

They scaled ancient steps like nobody's business, climbed fountains that survived centuries of conquests, surveyed Christmas trees, nativity sets and stained glass windows. And they took stock of the many versions of Jesus on the Cross in paintings, sculptures and trinkets in the nearby shops.

Oooing and Aaahing at the Holy Sepulchre

Joined by three grandparents 

Scaling the fountain at Papa Andreas Square like invaders of yore

We left that gargoyle in shock!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Breaking News! Albert Pujols Meets Me, Daniel in Israel!

In a bit of breaking news from this side of the world, baseballl star Albert Pujols, three-time MVP and 10-time All-Star, met me yesterday in Jerusalem!

He scooped me up as if I were a hanging curve ball
begging to be launched into the bleachers.
Here I am, sandwiched by amazingness! Dee Dee and Albert Pujols!
And he didn't just meet me and shake my hand, but he scooped me up in his arms and requested someone take a few photos with me. Yes, folks, you read this right. It's not everyday that someone gets to meet famed baby blogger Daniel, but this legendary baseball player did and he recognized greatness when he saw it. Which is probably what makes him great!

The truth is, despite my spin on this situation, I was absolutely enthralled with my new hero. As soon as I got back to school after this amazing encounter, I ran around with mommy's phone showing everyone the pictures of us together. And honestly, it wasn't just Albert, but the true powerhouse of the family, Dee Dee, who stole my heart.

This power-hitting duo bring life wherever they go. All MLB stats aside, here is the real reason  Albert Pujols is my hero: He and Dee Dee are always helping and advocating for people with Down syndrome, a cause close to my heart for genetic reasons. While most people are looking for ways to bring an “end to DS” through detection before birth, the Pujols are trying to help those of us with Trisomy 21 to lead better lives and to help us fit more aptly into the accepted version of society.

I think that is amazing. They know about such challenges firsthand: The Pujols’ eldest daughter, Isabella, is 18 and has Down syndrome.

The couple visited Shalva National Children’s Center in Jerusalem yesterday. Shalva is my old stomping grounds. And being one of the few Christian graduates of the program, I had the honor of welcoming and hosting the Pujols, who are also Christians.

About 40 percent of Shalva’s participants have Down syndrome. The new 200,000-square-foot  center, where I will probably return for the after-school gram in a year or two, includes an inclusive park for all types of children.

The Pujols weren't content with just touring Shalva: Albert gave a 5-minute batting clinic to two participants as well. And several autographs. And made several children and quite a few adults (such as my parents) very happy!

Can you see my shirt? "Future MVP" standing with former MVP!
"And a good day was had by all." Go Pujols!

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Greatest Birth Story Never Told

This is today.

This is -3 years ago, -2+months before due date

This is -9 weeks before due date, or Day 2 and counting.

Her insistence on an early birth earned Raia lots of fun wires and tubes
that we all wanted to play with ... and a lot of TLC at the NICU addition to other sorts of attention.

Pure and innocent as the wind driven snow. For now.

A few months after her very early birth, Raia was declared by doctors "up to speed" with her chronological age rather than having to pro-rate her development according to her preemie age. She was 6 months and she had caught up to "normal" (as if there's such a thing as normal)* as a half-year-old baby in weight, height and milestones. 

Today, on the celebration of her 3rd birthday, we can start to measure just how much she has surpassed "typical"* 3-year-olds in our family having perhaps the most extreme personality of the mix here.

Princess. Running back. 

Raia has far outpaced us, her brothers, in size, in independence and in attitude compared to us at her age, and sometimes even at our current ages. 

Size. Without abandon she has tossed 3T to the wind, busting through her age size already while Lucas, 4 years 10 months, is just now retiring those. 

Independence. While Lucas and I still willingly put out our arms and legs to allow you to dress me, Raia has been insisting on clothing herself for about a year now, after she picks out her own clothes, something Lucas and I never even knew was an option in life.

Self-potty trained before age 2. Enough said.

Attitude. In her short three years, Raia has pioneered such acts as the shoulder shrug which indicates, "no" without words. Emphatically. Defiantly.

While Lucas and I fling ourselves into the arms of strangers - pretty much anyone, anywhere, anytime - Raia holds back, analyzing the situation and giving the person the up-and-down several times. Unmoved by the display of affection and all the attention it gets us, she plays hard to get with aplomb.

The complete package.
Stubbornness. I thought I had perfected the stop, drop and roll move of resistance when being asked to do something or go somewhere I didn't want to, but then Raia took it to a new level. She stops, drops and planks whipping her body into a rigid log and instantly doubling her weight so as to prevent physical intervention by an adult.

Tough Love. Or Aggression? Raia's running hugs (when she does hug) are made with the same force as a linebacker rushing a quarterback. Lawrence Taylor, move over.  

She shows heightened mastery of "selective listening" and, like an undercover agent, pretends she hears or understands nothing said to her by teachers, friends and even parents.  When it suits her. Why didn't we ever think of that?

And then there is the side glance, better known as the side glare - the smoldering look of death that speaks more than words: a warning, a threat.

Raia must be strong to survive. Third child, ruminator and mommy's girl, Raia is a crucial member of our threesome of unstoppable and wild mayhem. We love her so much with each new day. But we never could've imagined how the tiny preemie, lying innocently and demure in a tiny hospital incubator, would someday become the force that she is today. 

Although we should've known that when she busted her way through to a two-month early birth. Silly us.

Happy Birthday, Raia!

Look out teenage years!
* in this blog, we use the terms "normal" and "typical" loosely

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Glory of the Time Change

Bright as the noonday sun!

...even before the sun rises!

...and at all times!

Seven days later and we are still reveling in the glorious time change to the winter clock.

We changed our clocks over here one long, sleepless week ago. Lucas, Raia and myself are enjoying the change of time and the extra hour it has afforded us in our day to squeeze the marrow out of life and to awaken the dawn itself! 

Our party usually begins at 5 am, and is in full swing no later than 5:30 - well before the sun peeks into the night sky. We try to entice our neighbors to join the fun by building tall wooden block towers on our laminated floor so that when they come crashing down, everyone in a square block radius wakes to the jarring fear that an earthquake has occurred!

Then, after being reprimanded for that, we enjoy other fun activities such as opening and slamming windows and doors, scaling our cabinets like a veritable climbing wall, sneaking iPads and then fighting over them (two iPads to three kids is unfair), all until my parents - who have woken up countless times throughout the short night to take care of us - drag themselves from bed to put out fires, turn down the volume on the iPads, calm us with food, make lunch, clean and dress us, pack our backpacks and corral us down the stairs to cars and then to school.

It’s been over a week now, and we are milking this like jet lag from a 12-hour trip to New York and a seven-hour time zone change. Actually, we have been known to kick actual jet lag after four sleepless nights. This is surely a whole new record over a mere hour difference. 

So to all of you babies just changing your clocks now, we welcome you. Enjoy that extra hour. Rise with gusto and act as if it is your normal wake-up time, because, essentially, it is! Especially if you don't read clocks yet! Have no fear: You will have no less energy at night as per The Law of Babies. You will, however, be superbly cranky for your hour less of sleep, not that this matters to you as a baby.

Meanwhile your parents, who in their pre-parent days viewed daylight savings as the gift of one extra hour of sleep, will now realize they've been robbed of not just 60 minutes, but several days worth as they rise, with no good reason, earlier than usual. 

Revenge may come their way in the spring when the clocks go back and we are suddenly waking up at the mid-afternoon hour of 7 o’clock in the morning. But we always find our way back. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Double Negative = Bring it on!

I can do all things! = I can do whatever I want!
Or, no? Ok, I'll put the loaf of bread back. 

But I can paint like Picasso, should I choose!
Some of Society: A child with special needs may accomplish nothing significant in life. (NEGATIVE)

Some Doctors: Many milestones will be impossible for this child to reach. (NEGATIVE)

Me: Nothing is impossible! (NEGATIVE+NEGATIVE=POSITIVE!)

Except for my eloquent writing, I tend to keep my thoughts to myself. Sometimes, however, my obsessions inadvertently cast some light onto what I am thinking. And in one of these vast obsessions lies my response to all the naysayers and fear mongers out there.

This song, my anthem - and my latest obsession:

Very apropos, don't you think?

When mommy popped the new CD into the car stereo a couple of months ago, just to "check it out," I was immediately drawn to the first song, by Planetshakers. And we haven't moved on from there. It is literally the only song we hear while driving.


Lest I riot.

As soon as the last drumroll rolls, I'm already demanding, "Again! Again!" both verbally and in sign language for additional emphasis. If it is not replayed instantly, I may start kicking the seat in front of me. Abandon all caution while driving! Just hit repeat! The song must go on.

My obsession with this song is for good reason. I have connected with it on a deep level because the message speaks to me. While many say, you can't - sometimes even I say it - God reminds me, "YES, I CAN!" Because it's him who gives me strength.

This song pumps me up on the way to school and eases me back home in the afternoon. It accompanies me on my way to therapy. And it is an appropriate prelude on the way to ballet. I actually sing to it, quite "impossibly" finishing the word "impossible."

And when I have the opportunity to dance or drum to it, watch out world!

So, do you believe in me??

"'For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord,
‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'"
Jeremiah 29:11

"Nothing Is Impossible"

Through You
I can do anything
I can do all things
Cause it's You who give me strength
Nothing is impossible
Through You
Blind eyes are opened
Strongholds are broken
I am living by faith
Nothing is impossible!

I'm not gonna live by what I see
I'm not gonna live by what I feel
Deep down I
Know that You're here with me
I know that, You can do anything

I believe, I believe
I believe, I believe in You

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Breaking News!

This just happened.

Yes. I've joined the world of academia's erudite intellectuals.  
A long time in coming. Perhaps too long (but no one will ever be sure). Nevertheless, after a long-awaited eye check up in May - a World War that required three adults to hold me down, one to peel my eyelids apart and another to calmly and accurately look into my eye sockets with instruments that require accuracy, precision and nerves of steel while I shrieked as if undergoing torture - both the ophthalmologist and optometrist dispatched us with a piece of paper that read: He needs glasses. Yesterday. 

Well, perhaps that paper contained numbers and other medical terms, but the end result was the same. 

After recovering from the trauma that was the eye exam, mommy now had to figure out how glasses would materialize for me, what our insurance covers and where, because naturally only one shop in the entire city works with our insurance company. But on a positive note it is across the street from us. But on another note, they don't have a wide selection. And the selection only got slimmer.

Instantly, mommy eliminated the vulgar brightly colored frames that scream, "I am a CHILD! Can you TELL?" And then she nixed the Coke-bottle round frames made of one piece of continuous plastic with no hinges whatsoever which scream, "I am a SPECIAL NEEDS child! And clearly everyone expects me to break my glasses so I got this unbreakable one-piece number! Can you tell??!!"

And so she was left with approximately one set of frames.

It took another World War to actually try on these frames because, as a rule, no one and nothing should ever touch my head and face: not your caressing fingers, not a brush, not shampoo and not ever a hat. And especially not spectacles that are pressed to my cheeks and strapped around the back with elastic.

Important questions remained unanswered. Which shape was best for my face? Which color complemented my skin tone? Which would stay on my tiny bridge? These were all questions only God could answer since I forbade any meaningful trying on of frames.

We left the store empty-handed.

After recovering from that trauma, and in a superb leap of blind faith, mommy just went back to the eye glass shop one day, without me, ordered the closest-to-tortoise-shell-plastic-nearly unbreakable glasses she could find. And that was that. 

Mommy enjoyed the ceasefire until the glasses arrived replete with prescription lenses. With World War 3 looming large on the horizon, Mommy took GongGong and myself to the store.

GongGong braced himself, knowing the tsunami that was to come. See, mommy waits for the grandparents' visits to schedule all of my most challenging medical appointments. Such as the ones that involve invasive probings into eyes and ears, blood tests, long commutes and much rebellion. They are her wingmen, her bag carriers, her crew to help simultaneously restrain and entertain me with song, dance and iPads. This enables her to ask serious questions and finish conversations with doctors without me threatening to delve into their surgical supplies and trash their medicine cabinets.

And while grandparents are usually successful, nothing prepared them - or anyone - for the horror that was the eye test and subsequent trying on of glasses.

As we arrived at the glasses store I started my backwards two-step to the exit, knowing what awaited me. GongGong braced himself. Mommy dragged me forward. Everyone in the store tried to convince me that these new lens were going to change my worldview. I vehemently disagreed.

Fifteen torturous minutes later, an emergency call was placed to abba who arrived with some sort of magical calming effect that no one can explain. I compiled almost instantly. Glasses went on. And I looked great! And I saw great, which apparently is more important!

In utter disbelief, GongGong leaned back on one of the chairs allowing his frayed nerves and elevated blood pressure to return to normal. Mommy started breathing again as her heartbeat stabilized. But both knew that only time and a bottle of wine would restore them to their pre-frazzled state, hours if not days later.

I for one was unfazed by the event. In fact, I've never looked back. But I did see better!

A whole new world to discover!
I still employ my sideways glance.
Ill-fated attempts at grandparents-grandchildren shots

But here's our first family shot with my glasses! 
And with my new found vision, I was able to bid
farewell to MM&GG as they sojourned back to America. 
Thanks for all your help refereeing my appointments! See you soon on the other side of the Atlantic.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Honor Where Honor is Due - 90 Years Worth!

Me and my special Nannigenarian!
Today is a very important day in history. Today is Nanni's birthday! And not just any birthday of Nanni's and not just any day in our family history, but a very significant one: Nanni is officially a nonagenarian! Or as I like to call her now, a Nannigenarian!

That may be a big word for a little boy, but every syllable of the word and every second of these 90 years has had a direct impact in my glorious heritage. And for that I am very grateful. I love my great grandmother! (emphasis on "great") 

As great grandchildren, we bask in Nanni's presence - and vice versa

The thing about great grandparents is that the word "great" isn't just because they are great, which they are. The other aspect of the word great is how GREAT their great grandchildren are, according to them. If you ever need a confidence boost or some salve to a bruised self esteem (deserved or otherwise), grandparents are where you go to get that. If you ever need or want to feel near divine, great grandparents provide that just by basking in their presence as they bask in yours.

Here's the Law of Generations. The higher up in generation you look to, the greater and grander you as a child feel. We babies abide by this scale of positive support and self esteem:

  1. Your parents = poor to average development of self esteem in child. (Common conversations are riddled with: "Stop! Come back! Don't touch that! I'm going to count to three!!!" 
  2. Grandparents = grand to grandiose growth of self confidence in their grandchildren. It is common to hear grandparents telling people: "My grandchild is so smart, he/she will be a doctor/lawyer/astrophysicist one day! My grandchild loves music, he/she has perfect pitch and precise rhythm! My grandchild is gorgeous. But really! My grandchild is an angel, he/she can do no wrong."
  3. Great grandparents = great to even grandiose proliferation of self confidence, self esteem and potential egotistical tendencies in great grandchildren. Commonly heard from great grandparents: "My great grandchild is actually an angel sent from the right hand of God. My great grandchild should definitely be in magazines. My great grandchild is smart, but I meant like Galileo, Davinci, Michelangelo and Einstein-smart. My great grandchild is the Babe Ruth of all sports! My great grandchild is a natural musician, Beethoven had nothing on him/her. My great grandchild has the world's most winning smile! My great grandchild lights up the world by his/her very existence!"
Or, if you get a C on your report card, you are a genius! Here's $10 and a piece of Gianduia chocolate! And your drawing, that haphazard, ragtag piece of scribbled paper that you gave me which is designed to resemble, um, something ... PICASSO you are! An artistic genius! And if you perform in the school play but forget all your lines, you are the next Cary Grant! And if you miss your free throw, you are Michael Jordan! And if you throw things, have a meltdown in public or stubbornly stop to the ground in protest and triple your body weight so as not to be moved, well, it's your parents' fault for not meeting your needs and anyway, you are actually an angel and whatever is happening is a lie!! 

When we invade NY, we try to hang with Nanni as much as possible

I do appear to be monopolizing Nanni

Naturally, great grandparents are very justified in their glorification of us. I mean, we are them! All of their goodness and their great genes have been seasoned on the way down to us. We look upon them with awe and respect because we know that they have worked to make a better way for us. And we get all the benefits! I'm musical - thanks to Popi. I'm a fashion template and an amazing Van Gogh artist - thanks to Nanni! I'm a gastronomical connoisseur - thanks to both (great) Grandpa and (great) Grandma, one a famous French chef and the other an anonymous yet amazing cook at home. And on the other side, I'm an intricate woodworker and medical expert! I am too good to be true!

And thus you get the great grandparent perspective/ego boost of the century!

I look to Nanni for more than just my genes

Nanni = unconditional love! ...

My motto in life is Shakespearean: "Brevity is the soul of wit." But "Nanni" is one of the few words I bother to say because she is very meaningful to me.

Unfortunately, an ocean is between us and now almost one year of literal face time (only slightly less of Apple-type FaceTime). But we live on pictures and memories and DNA to get us through the long months of separation. At least I know I have a delightful heritage!

...And lots of positive reinforcement in all my pursuits!

"The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me."
 Psalm 16:6