School Daze / by Susie Lubell

School

Israeli kids are really exuberant and they move in swarms which can be completely overwhelming to a couple of sensitive kids from a culture that values personal space and manners above all. My kids didn't have a chance.

My daughter started preschool last Sunday (Sunday is the first day of the week here) and managed pretty well for a few hours. The problem is that prek and kindergarten are managed by a regional council of the Ministry of Education. So you don't actually pick where the kids go, at least when you move to town this late in the year. You get placed. And we got placed in the only place with space which is a kindergarten. Meanwhile my daughter won't be five until February. So she's the youngest by a lot. The idea is that she'll stay there next year too (but her friends will go to first grade). It's not ideal. And I tried to make a stink about it but no one would budge. So on her first day a gaggle of girls with the best intentions attack her wanting to do her hair and dress her up and draw pictures for her. All the while yammering in Hebrew. My poor girl basically curls up fetal-like in a corner and sucks her thumb.

That same Sunday we went to my son's elementary school to register him. He would only start the next day. While there he starts to complain of a stomach ache which I chalk up to nerves. When we get home he crawls onto the futon (our only piece of furniture currently) and stays there moaning for several hours. Then I discover he has a fever. And then he proceeds to throw up for the next four hours. May be more than nerves. He doesn't make it to school on Monday.

Meanwhile, our girl goes back to preschool on Monday and makes it through another day with the help of some puppets - Shmuli the hedgehog and Morris the Fox. Trooper.

On Tuesday my son is finally ready for school. He doesn't have his books yet but he does have his uniform. He wears his red hoody sweatshirt with the school logo and meets his teacher, the one we'd heard good things about and were hoping for, in the front office. Score. Turns out all the kids are supposed to wear green, yellow or red (was it Rasta Day?)* so he would fit in great. He gives me a kiss and walks to class with his teacher. I pick him up a few hours later and he looks worn out and like he is about to burst into tears. They had swarmed him apparently and pulled him in a million directions and wanted to show him their soccer trading cards and invite him to a birthday party after school and be best friends. And all he wanted was for everyone to stop talking. Which he made clear at some point when he couldn't take it anymore. Poor kid. He was hungry too and thought he missed lunch somehow. There is no lunch at school. It ends at 1:30 and the kids eat lunch at home or aftercare. Only snack at school. Aha. He also can't follow along in class because he doesn't have his books yet.

Mr. Rosen runs out to buy his books later that day and comes home $150 poorer with sixty pound of books. That's when Mr. Rosen and I hit a low. Why did we take our son out of his amazing school in California so he could sit in class and do workbooks all day long? And this was supposed to be one of the country's better schools.

The next morning he cries that he doesn't want to go to school. He hates school. Hates school? I had never heard him say such a thing. He once told me he wished he could sleep at school because he loved it so much. My heart breaks for him. I pull out whatever anecdotes I can think of. I remind him that his friends Ido and Leonard and Itzel all spoke other languages at home and had to work extra hard in the beginning of kindergarten to catch up and now in first grade they are all speaking and reading and writing beautifully in English. It takes time. He humors me and agrees to go to school. We don't realize it is his teacher's free day (or that there is even such a thing as a free day) and he has a bunch of other teachers for PE, music, road safety (this is a big focus in school apparently - probably because of the way people drive here). He has no idea what is going on and we are equally in the dark.

His sister, on the other hand, appears to be doing well and is making friends. We are fooled into thinking that she is fully acclimated.

On Thursday I pick up my son after school and he has another fever and a rash on his face and it is clear that he is not going to school on Friday. He's a mess. I'm a mess too. I just didn't think it would be this hard and I have to remind myself that it's only the first week and he's only seven and he is completely out of sorts. His Savta comes to visit and sits down with him when he's feeling better to do some of his workbook exercises to catch up. Turns out he likes working in the workbooks. He learns four letter in one hour. By the next day he's reading in Hebrew. A switch has been flipped.

By Sunday, he's ready for school and he's feeling himself again. I pick him up and he tells us about a friend, Roi, who he's been hanging out with at recess. Progress. His teacher and school counselor let us know that he is ahead of his classmates in math and following along pretty well in Hebrew. And that he is a clever and wise little boy. He has endeared himself to the authority figures, as is his way. This morning he tells me he loves his school. I feel like I won the lottery.

Meanwhile in preschool, our little girl is becoming more and more clingy at drop off. She understands that this is not just a temporary thing and she wants out. On Wednesday I leave her there sobbing. And I spend the whole day wondering if I should just keep her home. Or demand she be placed with kids her age. Or start my own preschool. Of course when I pick her up she's fine. She even has a new friend who asks for her phone number to invite her over. Progress.

This has been the hardest thing so far. Harder than the whole health insurance debacle. It's made us question all of our decisions. Was this move the right thing? Would they have gotten a better education in the States? It's obviously too early to tell but we are encouraged by their progress and by the willingness of their teachers to welcome them and ease their transition.

* I later realized it was national road safety day so the kids dressed in the colors of the stoplight.