The last week or two has been a concentrated flurry of prepping my 6-year-old for 1st grade.
And because we’re here in Holy Land Central aka “HLC” aka Israel, the entire experience of getting him ready for this school system has meant initiation time for me too. Because I didn’t grow up here so I do-not-know-the-ropes.
The process began with the list of school supplies that arrived in the mail.
I’m fluent in Hebrew. I read newspapers, watch movies & t.v. and carry on semi-intelligent conversations in the language of the Biblical Land each and every day. But I didn’t know what a full third of the listed supplies were nor did I know what they would be used for. “Labels? A green plastic assignment folder ? He’s talented, but Oil Pastels, watercolors, markers and a sketch pad for art classes? He’s six!”
So it was off to the good neighbor’s house who patiently translated. And dully sent me packing to the bookstore.
Which presented learning curve hurdle #2. But before we go there, a friendly word from your sponsors: All you Nortes Americanos out there: You Are Privileged! You live in a wealthy country. Bow your heads in Gratitude and utter THANKS!
From kindergarten to college my parents never paid for school books. In my growing up years, the deal was: Show up on the 1st day of class and there’s a standard issue. Done Deal. Unless a text falls from the window of a fast-moving car, rolls into a mud patch or is fed to Bingo the dog for dinner, not one dime changes hands in exchange for trusty texts.
In the crazed scene that was my local Tel Aviv bookstore last week, however, parents frantically handed syllabus and supply lists to harried counter people who scrambled to fill orders. Living in HLC, I have come to appreciate good old fashioned elbows jutted, “get outta my way because I DO OWN THE PLACE” attitudes & jam-packed scenes because it’s part of the …oh let’s just call it charm for lack of better phrasing, shall we? The bookstore was no exception: charm overflowed.
An hour after arriving I was $200 lighter and had discovered that my childhood memories of prepping for a school year by picking out a new pair of shoes and an outfit for Day 1 would not be rite of passaged on down to my son. Nor would most of my school-associated memories because the school experience is completely different over here.
Heck, at orientation night we parents were treated to a child psychologist’s lecture on transitioning from Kindergarten to 1st grade. I don’t think my parents got those deliverables when I was a kid. To illustrate the inherent difficulty of learning to read & write, the psychologist asked parents to phonetically string together the sentence: “Shalom Kitah Alef” (Hello 1st Grade) ….in Tagalog. It wasn’t simple.
As the school year opened this morning, my son and his 1st grade peers were greeted by a clown at the front gate and a ceremony performed in the schoolyard by 5th graders. “Hey 1st graders,” the older kids crooned to the pack of wee ones, “we know you’re frightened and it seems overwhelming but don’t worry. We’ve been there and you’ll do fine.” It was touching. My son’s response: “Yeah..it was sorta fun but kind of boring”.
It’s actually kind of heady stuff learning the ropes with my child as he moves into new phases of his life in this new and oft times very foreign place.
As I contemplated pushing through the throng of parents to plant a final farewell kiss on his cheek before he entered the school building for the day I discovered something else:
He was talking to a new friend. He wasn’t searching for me. He was okay.
I vacillated between the messsage echoed in the previous night’s deliberate bedtime reading choice, Oh,the Places You’ll Go! and my internal dialogue:
That’s it? I don’t run after him? I just let him go through those doors and start this next life phase just like that?