Ravi, our 4-year-old, is not a timid child. When guests make their way into our home, she is usually the first to welcome them, inviting them to play. It should be noted, though, that these guests are adults. When it comes to other kids, Ravi is suddenly quiet, reserved, and cautious.
Last year when I attended parent teacher conferences (yes, my 3-year-old’s school had parent-teacher conferences—no report cards, though), her teachers highlighted this piece.
“Ravi can be shy around the other kids, generally,” they said, “but when an adult walks into the room, she fully engages them.”
I guess this makes sense, given I work as a rabbi and our home is often full of young adults, family, and friends.
This year, Ravi started preschool right in our backyard. Having heard positive reports from neighbors about the school and given its proximity to our home, we couldn’t pass the offer up. And so, we said goodbye to the smaller, intimate class and attention we received at her private nursery school program and enrolled Ravi into universal-Pre K.
“The rabbi’s daughter goes to public school!” friends and family teased.
Both Yael and I feel strongly about who teaches our children. We want to ensure our kids are passionate and committed Jews who feel equally part and responsible to their larger communal fabric. And sure, we ask ourselves the following too: What will Ravi’s Jewish community of peers look like? How will we navigate Halloween? Can we come to show the class on Family Share Fridays how we celebrate Shabbat, or does that violate Church and State on some level? We’d get to those in time, we assured ourselves.
On that first day, though, it was all anxiety. Parents and kids lined up outside of school waiting for the doors to open. In the background, one could hear a cab driver and biker cursing at each other with plentiful expletives. I probably squeezed Ravi’s hand tighter than she was holding mine.
The doors open and an inpouring followed suit, a rush of rambunctious, rowdy, vibrant, and fully alive children. Ravi holds my hand as she assumes I will navigate us to her classroom while I’m thinking to myself, “Um, where am I going again?”
Now the first day of preschool is actually about 50 minutes long. Yael and I figure that for parents whose children have never been acclimated into group settings, this slow and steady entry into socialization makes sense. For Ravi and other children who have been in daycare since 3 or 4 months, this is brutal.
“Past 8:20 a.m. and you are marked late,” the teacher addresses the parents on our first quasi-hour present.
“Um,” interrupts one parent, “Why does that matter?”
“Well, they start to keep track of these things in middle school and will look back at your child’s record.”
Really? I roll my eyes to Yael who already felt my reaction. We discuss on our way back home.
“But why trust our children’s care to strangers?” I ask Yael.
“That’s sort of how education works,” Yael reminds me. “Strangers who have kids too.”
“But what type of system, silliness, bureaucracy, really, are we exposing our children to?”
Yael and I are late for work. There is only so much I can project onto my children. And I’m reminded of the pop-psych wisdom that there is no perfect parent, only the good-enough parent. Our kids will inherit their parents’ baggage no matter what, so instead of trying to be perfect, try to be good enough. This resonates but it’s hard to do when my 4-year-old is the one eager to start her day and I feel like the child being left at the playground.
It’s been a week.
“How was your day, Ravi?”
“Are you curious again, Tati?” she says dryly.
Already, I am trying to pull teeth in getting to hear a bit more about her day. Mama gets more of the juice; there’s a girl who roars at Ravi in the elevator, Ravi didn’t want to go to the afternoon programming one day because, “it’s so busy and fast.” I crave these kind of details though I don’t know what I would do with them. My instinct would be to fix. How could I tolerate bullying of any nature? (Note: Louis CK is my rebbe in this regard).
And yet, there’s a certain resilience this little one has. Whether it’s a façade, a face for me, or something more genuine, she carries it just the same. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of co-officiating my cousin’s wedding with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At one point during the pre-reception, Ravi was running around, a glowing flower girl, anxiously awaiting to perform her task.
“Ravi,” says Yael, “that’s the woman I was telling you about, do you remember?”
No offense to the Notorious RBG, but this ain’t nothing to Ravi. She brushed up against the Justice’s cloak and bumped into the secret service as she continued her imaginative play, babbling and silly.
And so, this is my hope for my little one and myself as she starts school. That we can allow her fearlessness to mitigate and guide our own fear in some way. That we can remember the teachings of our sages that all beginnings are inherently difficult. And that we can remember that sometimes our children are our best teachers.