I reject the Mensch on a Bench and you should, too

There are many things about Christmas that perplex me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love the Christmas season. And I primarily love this most wonderful time of the year because I don’t celebrate Christmas.

I have no halls to deck, no lights to hang, no tidings to send. Somehow, though, as everyone else is decking and lighting and sending their tidings, it is impossible to avoid being swept up in a tornado of good cheer—that is, of course, if you can tune out the commercialization of every possible facet of the celebration. For a few weeks, the world feels like a giving, thankful, bright, happy place, and I love basking in its glow. Despite the shopping, cooking, decorating madness, as an outsider, it feels like people are trying to help other people.

December always brings the Hanukkah/Christmas cage match. Hanukkah is not the same as Christmas, and I never pretend otherwise. It is not the holiest of days, nor the apex of spiritual celebrations. I have always enjoyed the fact that Hanukkah is a minor festival, and ever since I was small, I felt completely satisfied with spending a week lighting candles, singing blessings, giving gifts, frying latkes, and reminding ourselves about another religious miracle.

But each year as my kids grow older, I face new questions and confusion about holidays and our religious identity. Now that my oldest is in public school, I am getting an earful about Christmas traditions of her friends. She’s already complained that she doesn’t hear “Hannukah music on the radio” and that more people celebrate Christmas at school. Their questions force me to think about the religious tenets that matter to me and compel me to make meaning for my children, to help them make sense of the world that is full of lights and trees and especially elves.

I know the Elf on a Shelf is a relatively new Christmas tradition for some, and last year more than any other year on social media, I could not escape photo after photo of these elves on shelves. I attribute the uptick to a confluence a few factors including the aging of my friends’ kids and the availability of social media for sharing everyday life. The elves hang from the chandelier, drink the family’s juice, play in the toy box, leaving reminders to the children that they are under a watchful eye. They create mischief and children must follow several important rules so as not to wreck Christmas magic (and ultimately, their Santa spoils, right?).

I know this relatively new tradition is supposed to be fun for children, but it seems to cause a fair amount stress for parents, working to create this Christmas magic. When I confessed my confusion (and really my mild disapproval) for the Elf on a Shelf on Facebook last year, I faced my virtual and actual friends who quickly schooled me on the enthusiasm for (and fear of) their family’s elf. Another friend pointed me towards an even newer Christmas tradition developed in opposition to the Elf on the Shelf called “Kindness Elves.” These hipster elves also move around your house but instead of asking you to behave for presents, they leave little notes encouraging children to practice acts of kindness like delivering toys to a local homeless shelter or baking cookies for a neighbor.

All of these new, manufactured traditions are commodification in the name of good cheer. I am still unclear why we can’t simply expect good behavior from our children or devote our time to helping others without the watchful eye of a stuffed toy. But, it’s not my holiday tradition.

That is, until someone went out and created the Mensch on a Bench.

If I wasn’t too fond of the Elf on a Shelf, I kept it to myself. In fact, this year, I’m even seeing a little Elf backlash, so I know I’m not the only person who finds the tradition onerous. But this Mensch on a Bench product infuriates me.

The Mensch on a Bench is the brain child of an entrepreneur who created the story of the mensch for his sons to overcome his own “elf envy.” He claims that his product will add “more funakkah in your Hanukkah.”

My Hanukkah is just fine.

And elf envy is not a thing. It simply cannot be a thing because Hanukkah is not the same as Christmas.

At first, I thought I would give the product the benefit of the doubt and I perused the website with an open mind—or as open a mind as I could muster–but I did not even make it through the PR reel. It’s so clearly a commercialized ripoff of the Elf “tradition” that I had to stop listening to TV hosts awkwardly “kvell” over this nonsense. Though the Mensch backstory is grounded in some of the traditional story of the holiday–Moshe the Mensch promised Judah Maccabee that he would watch over the menorah in the old temple and now he’ll watch over your menorah (and subsequently your children’s behavior) while you sleep–the doll comes with a list of rules that sound eerily the same as the list for the Elf on a Shelf.

Neal Hoffman, the brains behind this product, claim that it is “widely accepted in the Jewish community.” Last year, Hoffman manufactured 1,000 dolls and sold out, so this year he has the shelves of major retailers like Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond stocked with mensches. As if my holiday was not already misunderstood enough, now this absurd little man is becoming its emissary? Critics of the mensch rightfully recognize that this little, plush man represents an extremely limited view of who modern Jews are or how modern families are constructed. In my local Jewish community, I have not found a critical mass, not found one person who thinks this product is a good idea. I am appalled that anyone would spend money on this product that so transparently rips off another commercialized holiday “tradition.” (Note: I originally typed that last four words of the previous sentence in shouty-caps but self-edited because I am a lady.)

Maybe if the Mensch on a bench was modeled after an age-old Christmas tradition like some new “Hanukkah activities” I would not take such offense. I am still not crazy about the Manischewitz Chanukah house modeled after the gingerbread house or the “Hannukah bush” knocked off from the Christmas tree. These two traditions, while still slightly strange (and a little appalling), are at least grounded on old, cultural celebrations of a holy day.

This Mensch business is like a bad copy of a bad tradition.

This Mensch on a Bench manufactured nonsense tradition does not solve the problem I’m going through: how to teach my daughter to be proud of her religious faith when she is in the minority. Our Hanukkah traditions are grounded in generations of stories and suffering, and honoring those traditions is what makes us mensches. I want me daughter to know she comes from somewhere, that the people who came before her, made it possible for her to have Hanukkah, this little celebration of miracles. The Mensch puts no more “funakkah” in my holiday; in fact, it creates more stress just like the elf on a shelf does for lots of Christians.

A mensch is a person of integrity and honor.

All I could hope for in life is for my children to be looked upon as little mensches. Instead of intimidating my children into being mensches by posing some creepy doll around my house, I’ll spend my holiday season creating actual traditions with them. I’ll ask them to fry latkes, we’ll try our hand at making donuts, we’ll play dreidel, exchange gifts with our cousins, spend time at our temple and JCC, and write notes of thanks to their teachers and grandparents. We’ll keep it simple, because simplicity leaves room for honest chatter, for quality family time, and for focusing on the things that matter to us.

And most importantly, we’ll inspire them to be mensches because acts of kindness, integrity and honor are not only for eight days of obligation in December.

The most mensch-y of mensches is a mensch even when–nay, especially when–no one is watching.

Posted in being jewish, everyday life, family, holidays, kids, parenthood, personal, religion, writing | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Thanksgiving redux

December starts on a Monday? I hardly feel caught up from the crush of work before Thanksgiving and here I am, typing this post, wondering how it became December.

That’s pretty much how I always feel about the passage of time, though. They say the days are long but the years are short.

I think it’s all short.

I started this very melancholy post about Thanksgiving before Thanksgiving got underway. I felt so thankful and also so hopeless–as though no amount of gratitude would ever chip away at the desperate things in the world. I was feeling depressed about the book I was reading for my book club (The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd–it’s really amazing and soul-crushing) and I felt awful over the decision and subsequent pain in Ferguson, Missouri. I read the post over and over again, trying to make it make sense for anyone else. And then I did what any good writer should do with something that only makes sense to them.

I slept on it.

I woke up to Thanksgiving at my in-laws house. My daughters rumbled into our bedroom and then proceeded to wake their grandparents. We ate Frosted Flakes for breakfast.

We dressed for the family football game–a tradition on this side of the family for close to ten years that I’ve been attending since I was pregnant with my oldest. The game used to take place in the palatial yard of a second cousin but the kids have grown and the crowd has grown. This year, it was at some sports complex. I felt lucky to be included and also happy to watch my little girls run around the field with their older cousins.

On the way home, stuck in traffic on route 95, we listened to the full version of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant. Radio stations around the country play the 18-minute version on Thanksgiving and we first caught it on the way home from the football game years back. We were running late, my father-in-law and me in the front seat, my husband squished in the backseat with the girls, and we crept along, listening to the rollicking bridge of the song played over Guthrie’s narrative.

We arrived home. My mother-in-law was rightfully annoyed that we had run behind. She and I chatted in her bedroom while she stewed and I felt really daughter-like in that moment.

As the rest of the family came over, we heated the food that we cooked the day before. My father-in-law fussed over the turkey, and made a mess in his wake. We collaborated on the gravy which he presented proudly when we sat down to eat together.

Dinner was delicious and lovely. It began with the kindergarteners, my daughter and her cousin, making presentations they had practiced in school. My nephew read a story and my daughter recited a poem. Our table has changed over the years and their dear little faces making brave proclamations made me smile even if they rejected the cranberry sauce I dutifully prepared for them.

After dinner, the children played on their own and most of the adults played dominoes. The early dinner gave way to a later bedtime and eventually my eldest asked for help brushing her teeth. The cousins left, the hubub quieted, and my children drifted off to sleep, bellies full of hot chocolate, cookies, donuts, turkey and cake.

And the weekend ambled on just like that, with food and people and leisure. I learned to knit again, and after suffering through a frustrating session of casting on, the knitting and purling flowed easily. I watched a silly movie with my in-laws, snuggled on the their new couch. I talked on the phone to my sister, also at her mother-in-law’s house this holiday, and I felt like a teenager gabbing with her best friend. I visited with old friends of my husband’s who were now my old friends, too. I looked around at this family that was now my family. I felt at home.

We drove home after dinner on Saturday night. The girls were deep asleep in the backseat when we pulled into the icy driveway. We unlocked the house and carried their tired, curly heads up to their beds, my favorite parenting duty. I remember being carried in to my family home after a holiday at my grandparents’ house growing up, riding in the backseat of the Bonneville rousing to see Boathouse Row–“the gingerbread houses” as we knew them–lit up at night and then snuggling back in for the remainder of the ride across the Ben Franklin Bridge. I always felt so safe when my parents first carried then ushered me back into our house.

It was a weekend where I felt so saliently like a daughter and a mother, and rather than feel the tension between those two roles, I felt squished snugly into them.

Our Sunday at home was full of catching up and playing around. And Sunday night was a whirlwind of cooking, fixing and cleaning to feel ready to face this first Monday of December. The run up to the last month of the year makes me wonder if I’ve been asleep for weeks.

And I remembered the melancholy essay I wrote five days ago, the one I thought no one would understand. With some distance and headspace, I felt less agitated. I had struggled to capture something so simple: no amount of thankfulness or gratitude or grace will ever be enough to make others know or feel the kind of peace I feel some times.

And I could let this idea crush me or I could simply shine thankfulness all of the time.

And so it goes.

Posted in everyday life, family, food, holidays, kids, personal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

I’ll say it: Halloween is not a big deal

I’ve been thinking about Halloween a lot lately because as a parent with two small children, I’ve been sucked into this nostalgia that I simply don’t share.  Growing up, Halloween was just not that big of a deal to us.

In the Leventhal house, there was no planning our costumes, no mother toiling over a sewing machine, no decorating the door and conspiring to scare neighborhood kids. It was the mid-1980’s and my parents told us that Halloween was a pagan holiday and that we didn’t celebrate it. I never fought or questioned them, and as such we have few if any photos of my sister and me in costumes, trick or treating. And neither of us is scarred by this fact.

At the time, I went to a private, Jewish school, so the idea of a school-based Halloween celebration was not something I knew or understood, and as most of my friends were spread across town, I didn’t feel left out staying home to hand out candy. And because we lived in four houses before we settled into my “family house” in the fifth grade, we didn’t have close relationships with our neighbors. There were few invitations to go trick or treating with the other kids in the neighborhood, and my mother probably felt like the whole charade was a silly, waste of time.

My mother’s disenchantment with Halloween certainly came from a place of fatigue. My mom was on her own many nights because my dad taught high school by day and community college classes at night. She couldn’t take us trick or treating AND man the house. She was supremely irritated that the public school could require costumes for a parade–I wore the same witch costume in the fourth, fifth and sixth grade parade. My sister in her little angel costume did the same for first, second and third grade. When I went off to middle school, she inherited the witch ensemble. My mother could envision no other choices, and did not entertain other possibilities. And on the few occasions that we went out to collect candy, she would inventory the spoils and trade us for the stockpile. I didn’t care too much about the candy and usually nabbed some new paperbacks out of the deal, so I was happy.

As I got older and as kids could go out trick or treating on their own, I felt a little left out of the Halloween evening plans. I lacked the creativity to come up with my own costumes and my mother was certainly no help. In college, I tried to be creative, but learned early on that clever costumes are tough to pull off. After trying out Ginger from Gilligan’s Island and Tito in the Jackson 5 (just an excuse to wear some incredible plaid pants), I did what any self-respecting co-ed would do on Halloween: I slutted it up.

Slutting it up was kind of fun (and slightly cold) if only for a night. One specific October 31st, I am sure that my vodka jacket was directly responsible for my warmth because my “ice princess” ensemble was pretty useless. There was a white boa and silver platform shoes involved, of course. Nothing clever at all.

After college, I sort of gave up. Every year, I buy one bag of candy corn and try to make it last a whole month. And I don’t think about what I’ll be for Halloween. I don’t feel deprived because I have no opinion about Halloween. I like dressing in costumes as long as I don’t have to come up with the costume ideas. I really like candy. Who doesn’t like seeing their neighbors? I just really don’t like spooky, creepy things, horror movies, zombies, haunted houses or hayrides. I don’t even carve the pumpkin in this house. I like my autumnal entertainment as benign as possible.

In the past twenty years, though, Halloween has acquired a true secular, commercial status in American life. As a child, it was easy to abstain or avoid. Now, conscientious objection looks like you’re a big party pooper. And I’m not really a conscientious objector–I truly object to Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day on multiple grounds, but Halloween is like nothing at all in my mind. I just don’t really care. And if it wasn’t for our kids, I probably wouldn’t give Halloween a second thought.

Still, I have to care or put on the mantle of caring because my little daughters know about Halloween. My kindergartner daughter has been waiting for the Halloween parade at her school. She has been doing candy corn math problems and reading pumpkin stories. Every person she meets asks her what she’ll be for Halloween. I want them to feel in the loop if they want to be, and I know that I can’t layer on my own malaise about this pseudo-holiday.

This morning, my older daughter woke up and her first sentence out loud was, “Guys! It’s Halloween today!” I imagine this is what it is like to celebrate Christmas.

So today, we’ll join up with some neighborhood kids and walk up our street and collect candy. My girls are too early to broker a true trade, so we’ll let them keep a few pieces of candy and I’ll bring the rest to my seminar students on Monday.

The only upshot of Halloween is that it helps us autumn lovers hold on dearly to pumpkins, apple picking, mulled cider, warm sweaters (if it ever got cold enough) and fall leaves, because tomorrow, Christmas will be upon us.

Posted in everyday life, family, holidays, kids, personal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Explain less, worry less

I explain myself too much.

I explain myself to cover my bases, to be sympathetic and to be empathic. I explain myself even when no explanation is necessary. Sometimes, my explanations are apologies for nothing warranting regret.

Explanations roll off my tongue from an unidentifiable place in my heart. Whenever I feel misunderstood, I dig deep to find a way to be relatable, and I launch into that explanation.

I’m already explaining too much about where this whole post came from.

Recently, I hustled across campus to teach after lunch, running several minutes late. I apologized to my colleagues for having to leave the meeting, and on my way to teach, I drafted the apology to my students. My immediate inclination was to explain my lateness. I value my students’ time and don’t want them to think I am more important than them. I imagined my explanation would include a mea culpa.

As I walked, I also imagined my explanation of the lecture I planned to give–my least favorite of the semester–where I describe historical origins of schooling. It is a crucial discussion to have in a class about schooling, but I have always felt clumsy toggling through dates and ideas. I feel fatigued at the end of it, so I always preface that particular class meeting with an explanation of my own skills as a sociologist and not a historian. I explain too much, and, frankly, my students don’t care.

As I walked to class that day, I was embracing this feeling of lightness. Instead of stomach churning or nerves fluttering, I felt self-assured, unphased by the hustle. I started to wonder if I had finally shaken off the tendency to worry that I’ve been battling for too long.

When I went to grief therapy, one of the first tasks I worked through with my incredible therapist was my inclination to pre-worry about everything. I was in therapy to work through the sudden death of my mother, and all I could do was worry about my dad and sister, about our husbands, about my relationships in my own family and to my married family, with my friends. I worried about the holidays when they were six months out and I worried about family visits and events. I just worried constantly. My therapist helped me to see that worrying was a productive behavior for things I could control, but for (so many) things largely out of my own control, worrying was wasteful. Worrying depleted me, diverting energy from behavior or feelings that could have buoyed my spirit rather than dragging it under.

Explaining myself is an outgrowth of worrying. I have probably always explained myself because I worried about how others perceive me, about whether I’ll be taken seriously, or whether I’ll be liked by others.

But I’m getting to a point in my life where I just don’t have the time to worry about it anymore. Professionally, I’m feeling the most confident I’ve ever been. Teaching and advising are coming easily to me. I feel inspired by what I do and I am constantly learning from my colleagues and my students. And personally, life is like a train rolling down a hill. We have our health and we have each other. Our schedules are chaotic at times but we’re all surviving life and each other.

Even though I could probably draft a litany of things that could worry me, I have to focus on this moment, this day, what comes next. And for some reason, I am simply not worried. I want to be worried, but I can’t put myself through it.

It’s all about the short game right now. No further explanation necessary.

Posted in everyday life, family, writing | Tagged | 4 Comments

I feel lightness….

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about my present state of mind. Re-reading my last few posts–laments on my August slump, my daughter’s first day of school, and my coming career exploration–I just realized that I seem melancholy.

On the contrary. Most every day, all I feel is lightness.

I feel lightness at the five o’clock hour looms large, as I shut down for the day, pack up my things, and descend from my office on the second floor out the back door of the building, walking over the gravel, broken and scattered to my tired sedan in the parking lot. My mind races with a list of things I haven’t yet completed and a list of things awaiting me at home. Yet, the air is the perfect temperature, it covers my bare arms. I feel a lightness in the pre-twilight air that is somehow fresh even though the day is stale.

I feel lightness when I see my children at the end of a hassled drive even though I have just sprinted through the parking lot and even though sometimes I face exhausted and moody rather than joyful faces. I see their dimpled cheeks and their crazy curls, messy from fighting a day of restraint in a ponytail. They clamor for my attention, making demands, whining to be carried to the car or running away, and though corralling them is a test of my patience, I am sometimes (but not always) able to lose myself in the chaos of reunion.

I feel lightness when I feed them something to eat and especially on nights when their mouths are full and quiet because they are so satisfied. I listen to their report of the days’ events, sneaking in snippets of my own to my husband as we eat and talk. And while sometimes my culinary feat is refused, I resist disappointment when full plates of food return to the kitchen counters and requests for “toast, please” bubble up from the peanut gallery.

I feel lightness when I tuck them in at night, snug in their pajamas, under blankets with loveys, flipping the light switch and wishing them “sweet dreams.” I secretly delight in returning for an extra kiss or hug but only the first few times. And even when the indignant bedtime protestation swells, I still chuckle over the creativity employed, luring us back to their rooms.

I feel lightness in moments where my husband and I work side by side doing anything. We try to be in each other’s company once the children are in bed because if we thought about how little time we actually spent together, it would depress us. Often it’s clicking our respective keyboards, but sometimes, it’s doing the dishes. We say words to each other and listen and question. We catch up on a television show. And sometimes we just sit in silence.

I feel lightness when the clock strikes eleven or twelve and I remind myself that it is time for bed. I take a moment in my bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. I make some notes about the day for myself in my journal. I take out my earrings and toss my dirty clothes next to the overflowing hamper in the corner of the room. I check my alarm to make sure it is set for 6:45am. I check it a second and third time because we have only recently started setting alarms and I do not trust that I have done it correctly. And then I snuggle my feet under the sheets and relax.

How can I feel anything but lightness with the things that I have. My husband, my children, my family and friends, my home, my car, my job, this life. Some days feel so ragged and frayed. Some days I feel like I have everything wrong, that I haven’t lived the day with the grace and patience I imagine I have, that I have not been genuine and present. But wallowing in that kind of self-doubt, in that insidious negativity does nothing for me.

I feel lightness because I pay attention. It would be easy to feel the weight of the day in everything I do. It would be easy with the kind of uncertainty I have at work, to feel unappreciated or frustrated with my family or my students, to feel worried and nervous about the coming months, the coming years. Instead, I remind myself to have patience, to be grateful, to have some faith, to really see the precious, little moments.

And instead of the unbearable weight many insist on carrying, I feel lightness.

But really, I choose lightness.


Posted in everyday life, family, health, kids, lessons learned, marriage, parenthood, personal, writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

When first days and last days collide: back to school

Summer is over and no matter how hard I try to conjure up corn on the cob, swimming with my littles, picking berries, lazy post-dinner walks, or getting some sun, those last days are fading.

Every last bit of everything has become like a sacred ritual around my house. As summer wound down, we remarked on the last backyard dinner al fresco, the last trip to the park before school starts, the last swim at the pool. We’re making each little moment so precious that we’re almost unable to enjoy them for risk of spoiling their memory, so obsessed and consumed with the end of things and the start of things.

These last days beget first days. We have been counting down the days until the next big milestone: the start of preschool for the little sister, the first day of kindergarten for the big sister, the first day of classes for me, first first first. Cherishing our every move has become a full-time job around here.

We have lost sight of the in-between moments, though. And for me, I am stuck in-between because some of this year’s firsts might also be lasts, and it is too difficult to discern the starting and ending points. So I don’t.

My firsts and lasts are on a collision course headed for the start of classes at my institution. Most of my life has run on the academic calendar–I have been going “back to school” for all save two of my last thirty years as a student, graduate student, and now professor. I always liked school but fell further in love with school over a long stretch of time. Because I did well enough and stayed out of trouble in high school, I went to college and then graduate school, investing time first in myself and eventually in my ability to think and reason. In many ways, school has become both part of what I do and who I am.

And even with thirty odd first days of school and even though I have had plenty of time to think about going back to school this school year, as the day crept closer and closer, my mind could not reconcile the confusion I feel about this coming year. I remain in a professional holding pattern because my contract is winding down and I am planning for what I’ll do after this academic year. My first day of teaching might be my last day of teaching–for now anyway. I don’t mean in the sense that I won’t be a teacher anymore, but I won’t be a teacher like this.

Instead of a first day, or a last day, I am stuck in-between.

Though I would like to think that we would hold up the in-between moments, make them sacred, I am certain that I won’t. I keep asking myself, if I knew this day or this year was really the last teaching I’ll do for a while, would I change what I do or how I do it?

Teaching is what I do, and it is also part of who I am, but teaching isn’t the only thing I can or should do, either. But being in-between means facing the fact that I might be leaving academia, giving up this kind of teaching, and beginning to disentangle a professional and personal identity that have grown (more like fused) together. Tougher still is that disentangling them feels like surgery without anesthesia–it feels arresting and frustrating and a little painful when it should really feel uncomfortable.

Being in-between feels a little achy.

Leaving a job is difficult because transition is difficult. I am thankful that I have time to negotiate this next transition. Once you make a transition, theoretically life changes because for better or worse, you also change. Last days pass awkwardly into first days, and suddenly you’re in-between again.

But it’s okay because just when we thought summer had ended, a wave of humid heat swallowed our town up yesterday, reminding us of the steamy, messiness of in-between moments like these. On this second anniversary of Rogue Cheerios, I have to return to the advice I got before I started writing: I just don’t know what it’s going to be yet. So, I have no choice but to settle in. 

Posted in academia, blogging, everyday life, higher education, lessons learned, personal, schools, summer, teaching, what professors do, work, writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What I want to tell my daughter on her first day of school


You have no idea what’s about to happen. Well, maybe you do. People have been grilling you about your level of enthusiasm over this transition for months, asking you at every opportunity, “Are you going to Kindergarten? Are you excited?” You have been patient with them, thankfully, but even you are starting to run out of patience. They don’t know what else to ask a five-year-old, babe, and though their questions have bored you, you have been polite.

PencilsThe big day is finally here. No more playdates and popsicle socials, orientations and one-hour visits. It’s the main event.

Tomorrow begins a new chapter of your life. I would be lying if I said that I was not a little sad about your starting school. At our orientation today, seeing you with your hair in pigtail braids, lined up with your backpack perched on your shoulders, I caught a lump in my throat. You look so big in this sea of big yet little kids. The moment feels surreal, like I’m looking at a group of some other kids that cannot possibly include you. And yet, there you are.

I’m not sad for the reasons that many other parents are sad, though. Though I’ve read many nostalgic accounts of other parents’ sadness about the start of kindergarten, I am trying not to be self-congratulatory. I am a little bit sad because I know what’s about to happen.

For the first five years of your life, the only real social institution you’ve been a part of is our family. Our family is a safe haven, and you are a lucky little girl. Our family is warm and loving, we live in a safe place and rest easily at night. Though you’ve been cared for a by a team of people that has included your dad, me, and some incredible teachers at two different daycare facilities, your world has been very insular.

MarkersWhen you walk through those school doors tomorrow on your own into your kindergarten classroom, we lose a little part of you. You become part of the school, another big social institution, and we lose a little control–not that I need to control your life. We just don’t have the same kind of say that we did when it was just us four, in our house, spelling words on the fridge after dinner. You become part of a class, you have new people (big and small) who will become part of our family, too. You will have new norms and rules to learn and follow. You will have a new adult in your life, your teacher, who we think we like already but who we hardly know.

Even though we’re losing a little part of you, we can’t wait to ride shotgun on your grown-up school kid adventure. You are already an amazing little person, ladybug. You are bright and curious. You are kind to your friends and your father, sister, and me. You wonder about things. You are eager to learn. And as you told me recently, you “love school.” I hope that kindergarten is the first of many years of exploration for you.

I’m a little sad, ladybug, because I know too much about school–not just from my own experiences but also from my work. All I do is think about schools and schooling. I teach about, study and write about education. I know about the hidden expectations you’ll face as a student (and as a girl) to be quiet, obedient, and even passive. I know (from experience) that other kids can be vicious in small and big ways. I know how social pressure can impact your self-esteem. I know easy it is to get lost in the mundane day-to-day, to get bored and to lose your intellectual curiosity.

But if I told you all of this, your hazel eyes would stare at me, confused and impatient. You would push past me through those doors, waving a quick “bye mom” over your shoulder, racing off to meet new friends, to color, to read, to be that vivacious little lady that I know is ready for this new school year.

I wish I could just freeze this moment. I want to hold this moment in my hands and squeeze it, cuddle it, keep it close.

But I can’t.

So all I can say is, be aggressively kind to yourself and your friends, be loud, be patient, be thoughtful, ask for help, and stay innocent for as long as you can.

I cannot wait to hear about this first day and every other big and small day, kiddo.




Posted in everyday life, family, kids, lessons learned, motherhood, parenthood, personal, schools, students | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments