The immigrant mother goes to school

When we began seriously considering making Aliyah, one of the obvious concerns I had was regarding our kids’ transitions into new schools. We loved our children’s preschool in N.J. and both of our preschoolers were in the middle of fantastic years with loving teachers. Our oldest son was in the middle of 2nd grade with a teacher who adored him and encouraged him, at a school that just hired a vibrant, energetic principal who was making positive changes. We were (I was) afraid to rock the boat.

 On top of the typical transitional concerns of moving schools and moving countries, we were debating whether or not to move to Israel in December, during Winter Break in the U.S., or to wait until summer. When a rental on Hannaton became available in October (for a January move-in), we felt the need to decide.

In general, most of the “experts” we spoke to (ie. Nefesh B’Nefesh/Jewish Agency/child psychology professionals) agreed that a move during the summer would be ideal for our kids. In this optimal scenario, the children would finish the school year in the States and start the new school year in Israel with the rest of their peers in September after adjusting over the summer to the new community and culture.

Well, as is typical when my husband and I make big decisions, we decided to buck the system. We moved in December – and our kids entered their classes in the middle of the school year.

But, you know what, future olim? Despite the warnings and concerns, I think it was the best decision we could have made for them.

Perhaps, it might have been more difficult for kids with different personalities or needs. But for our family, it actually worked. And, in retrospect, moving in January turned out to be better for us than moving in August would have!

Since our oldest was excelling academically (insert bragging moment:  he was reading in English above his grade level), we comfortably encouraged him to focus his early school efforts here in Israel mostly on learning Hebrew and making friends, rather than on academics. Bottom line: We weren’t too worried that he was working in the first grade workbook while his classmates were in the 2nd grade workbook, as long as he left in the morning and came home happy. The stretch from January to June, in our minds, was designated a “get adjusted period;” with July and August as a summer breather.

We applied the same thinking to our 2 and 5 year olds. Now, post adjustment period, the two year old is practically caught up. The middle guy, who took the longest to adjust, is fortunate to return again this year to his multi-age classroom, now  as a part of the older, experienced group.  Were we lucky? Or did we accidentally make a really good decision?

I am not sure, but today, on their first day back at school, my children no longer look or act like the new immigrant kids in the middle of “klita,” but veterans.

Not so their mother.

(Cue pout.)

I’ve still got immigrant written all over my face.

Last week, before school started for my now third grader, we were invited to a back-to-school Open House evening during which we could meet privately with my son’s new teacher and with the other parents in the class.

I normally love these type events.

I love them.

As a “mindful mama,” I am very involved in my children’s education and I am always very interested in the teacher’s technique and style.

Let me be perfectly clear: How my child experiences school is very important to me.

Therefore, up until now, I’ve been the “school parent” – the one who sits on committees, and meets attentively with the teacher during conferences. The one who files away report cards along with the special drawings and milestone achievements. I’ve participated in “special meetings” behind the scenes with school community leaders. I’ve donated my time to parent-run after school activities. I’m a presence at my child’s school – intentionally. I feel my presence is necessary in an age where public education is not set up to holistically meet our children’s individual needs. I accept this challenge and welcome it.

And now, I am powerless (or, more accurately, language-less) to meet that challenge.

This feeling of helplessness goes against my nature, as anyone who has been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of my “Everything Is a Choice” lecture will tell you.

The bottom line of my lecture? We human beings are never powerless. We are always making choices. Sometimes we choose between good and bad. Sometimes we choose between bad and worse. Sometimes, when we are very lucky, we get to choose between good and even better.

And our family has made some choices:

  1. To move to Israel where they speak Hebrew;
  2. To move to the North where English is not the first nor second spoken language (like in Jerusalem), but the third; and
  3. For me to forgo an intensive language ulpan to instead work full time at a company where I may speak English every day.

These were our choices, which we made willingly (and even excitedly).
But these choices are difficult to acknowledge when I am filled with bitter mom resignation and have tears of frustration streaming down my cheeks.

As you might imagine, at the school open house I did not volunteer for any committees, nor did I stay to listen to the teacher’s speech about her educational and disciplinary style when she shared it during the parent meeting. Instead, I resentfully banished myself outside to watch my two little ones who were  hyped up on the sugar and artificial food coloring from the taffy candy the teacher gave out at the beginning of her talk. Like their little friends, they ran around the brick walkway barefoot (despite my warnings and yells) while I sulked.

Why should I bother to stay, I thought. I’m not going to understand what the teacher says anyway. And even if I do understand a little, I won’t adequately be able to express my questions or concerns to her. And even if I can express myself even a little, all the other parents will just think I am too strict or too involved or too American.

Boo hoo hoo. Poor me.

(Later my husband would give me the Cliff Notes version of the teacher’s talk which he may or may not have doctored to make me feel better. Because the picture he painted of my son’s teacher — inspired and patient, but tough– did in fact make me feel better.)

So, instead of engaging at all, I sat by myself on the expansive patio in between the school buildings, and swallowed my bitterness until my friend Ian came along and coaxed the disappointment (and tears) out of me with a kind question and compassionate eyes. Though he has been in Israel a little bit longer than I have, and his Hebrew is stronger than mine, Ian can also relate to what it feels like to be an outsider in this country. His was a good shoulder to subtly weep on. And all he could do was nod in sympathy, and tell me it would (most likely, but not for sure) get better.

Kind and compassionate friends is the only happy ending to this story. And, if I am lucky enough to keep them despite my sour puss, my kind and compassionate friends will continue to be the soul bright spot in the ongoing lamentations of this immigrant mother until more time passes, more opportunities arise, and more choices are made.

My fellow immigrant mother friends all assure me “It Gets Better.”  I have hope that this blog will one day be a testament to that.

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