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Dec 12 2013

Feeling at Home in Jewish Preschool

By at 10:16 am

boy playing with trains at preschool

The Northern California air is crisp and biting as I unbuckle my son from his car seat and slide his arms into his Spiderman sweatshirt.

“Stand right here by me and don’t move,” I warn him, reaching back in to hoist the baby’s car seat up into the air. I keep one hand on Max as the other clicks the baby seat into the stroller. Lunchbox. Water bottle. Mitzvah Star. Five dollars for challah. Baby’s blanket is on. Where is his hat?

“Stay right here, Max, there are too many cars in this parking lot. Wait for Mommy. Hold on to Bennie’s stroller please.” A wadded up diaper rolls out of the passenger seat as I grab my diaper bag. I stuff it back in before anyone notices.

“Good morning, Simon Family! Hi Max! Or should I call you Spiderman? That’s a pretty cool sweatshirt you’ve got on!”

He beams.

“Teacher Stephanie, I’m a SUPERHERO!” he yells back to her. The stress of the morning evaporates.

Our preschool director knows each child by name. She stands at the front gate every morning, greeting each family with a special hello. I know you. You are welcome here. You are important to me.

Max lights up as we walk through the gate. He is suddenly taller, more self-assured. He is 4 years old now, and we pass the classrooms that he has long outgrown as we cross the courtyard and head toward “the big kid’s side.” Teacher Linda waves from the 2-year-old class and calls out to him. “Good Morning, Max!” “Hi Honey! The baby is getting so big!” she says to me with a smile. My heart swells. I remember you. I see you. You are important to me. Max was still sick when he started in the 2-year-old class, and he vomited every day for the first two weeks. She let him be her special helper. She cuddled him when he cried. She assured me that he was blossoming in her class, and making friends. I believe in you. You can trust me. I’ll take care of you.

When we reach Max’s class his friends greet him at the door. “Max! Come play trains with me!” He stops for a quick hug and one last snuggle, and disappears into his classroom. Teacher Susan greets him with open arms, and Teacher Patti’s voice lifts and her eyes smile as she helps him to melt into the group of children huddled around the train table. I’ve noticed that they have become fluent in Max’s language. There is no double-take when he gets excited and talks too fast, and his speech issues bubble over. They can translate, easily; I know you. I understand you. I am listening to you.

Perhaps it is like this in every preschool, on every wintery morning. I choose to believe that there is something about this place. This insular, warm, familiar Jewish community wraps us up like a much-loved quilt. Its fabric is stitched together by shared history, woven tightly with tiny threads of culture and religion. We are a patchwork of experiences—Reform, Conservative, interfaith. Everyone belongs, everyone is important. The warmth of this blanket is mitzvot. It is a blessing. We rely on each other, and yet rarely stop to put words to how this sacred space protects us from the wind and biting cold of parenthood. The children aren’t the only ones who are growing here–the parents are, too.

I turn around and steer the stroller back through the courtyard. The voices of other parents lift toward the sky and carry on the wind out to the parking lot. A friend puts a warm hand on my shoulder as she walks by, and smiles at me with her eyes. I call out a hello to another mom with a baby snuggled against her in a carrier. We walk the same path; I see you. I am reflected in you. Come walk next to me. Never have I felt so welcomed, so uplifted, so known. Judaism is about inclusion, kinship, and having faith that your community will carry you. I look back at the building where my sweet boy is tucked into his classroom, and my heart soars.

We appreciate you. You have embraced us. We belong here.

The gate closes behind me, and I exhale.

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