What if I told you that my daughter’s preschool was covered in graffiti yesterday and I dropped her off anyway? Would you think I was a bad mom?
How about if I told you that what was scrawled on the school wasn’t obscenities or amateur art, but angry dark swastikas… and I still dropped her off? Are you judging me now?
How about if I said that we are the only Jewish family that goes to that preschool and I STILL dropped her off? Are you shocked yet?
Because I wasn’t. I said a cheerful good morning to her teacher, clucked my tongue in distress at those troublesome vandals and hurried off to the coffee shop to write. It wasn’t until a half hour later in some casual texts with my husband that I realized what I had done.
“There were swastikas on the school and you left her there?”
“I’m sure it’s nothing. Just some bored teenagers.”
“But there were swastikas on the school?!? How can that not concern you?”
Suddenly, it did concern me. Very, very much. A cold sweat crawled up my neck. My hands shook so hard little drops of hot coffee splattered against my keyboard.
“You think I should go get her?” …. “Yes, yes! Of course, I should go get her!”
I didn’t get her. Not even then. What I did do was wait outside the school, my heart in my throat, my hands gripping my keys, ready to take on any crazy Nazi terrorists that dared to enter the building.
How is it that I didn’t feel that alarm immediately? Why is it that my non-Jewish husband had to be the one to alert me?
Didn’t I grow up hearing about how my aunts in Libya were forced into concentration camps where they lost babies to torture and disease? Hadn’t I been warned a million times that it could happen again, that Jews are never really safe, that I should always always be on guard? Hadn’t I myself had pennies thrown at me and been accused of murdering Jesus when I was just about my daughter’s age?
Of course I had. All of that.
For years I’d taken it as a given that every classmate was a potential anti-Semite and every bad grade might possibly be because I was Jewish. I took all that fear and suspicion and built myself up a wall so high that no one could climb it.
I stayed behind that wall all through middle school and high school, reading, thinking, dreaming.
Up until those first few weeks of college it stayed intact, tall and imposing. But then there were boys that wanted to talk to me and professors who thought I was clever.
Pretty soon the wall became more of a conversation piece than a real barrier. Eventually, I forgot why I’d put it up in the first place.
So, I knocked it down. Bulldozed it really. Just like that. And the world came rushing in. Suddenly I was the belle of the ball, the queen of campus, everyone’s favorite Jew. There was no turning back.
I told myself that I’d built that wall out of insecurities, not anything substantial. It had been an invisible force field, a smoke screen. And now that it was gone, I vowed to never let anything so troublesome as anti-semitism hold me back again.
When I saw that school branded with hate and fear and terror, I didn’t think twice about dropping off my daughter and going to enjoy my morning coffee. I’d grown too strong to let some archaic symbolism ruin my day.
What kind of mother am I anyway??
The kind that doesn’t want her child to grow up always looking over her shoulder. The kind that doesn’t want her child to feel like victimhood is an unfortunate side effect of being Jewish. The kind that wants her child to be free.
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