Chanukah in a Catholic Family

I was raised Catholic, as was my husband.  All of our children have been baptised Catholic, but my daughter attends  a Jewish school.  When I was 4 years old, my parents sent me to the Jewish pre-school a few blocks from our house.  I don’t remember much about my kindergarten experience at the public school down the street, but I can tell you all about my time at Temple Beth Shalom.  Because my experience was so great, we decided to send our daughter to Midbar Kodesh, a Jewish Early Education Center for ages 18 months-5 years when she was 2 years old.  Though there are many obvious differences in the two religions, initially what I loved about Midbar was that she was learning bible stories, the same ones we learn in Catholicism, and a new language, Hebrew.  Though it wasn’t Spanish or French or Italian, I justified it as a way for her to open her mind to new cultures, languages, religions…essentially, she was becoming more worldly at a very young age.
For the past three years, I have attended every Chanukah and Spring program.  Together, my husband and I have supported the school monetarily as much as we could, mainly because we were both working full time, and that was all we could do.  They needed school supplies…done.  They needed extra funds for the teacher’s gifts…done.  They needed toys donated for the classrooms…done.  For the last two years, I truly felt like a participant in my daughter’s education.  I was so wrong, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Since I left my job in May, obviously, I’ve had more time on my hands.  I was able to participate in field trips, chat with the parents when picking up and dropping off, be more involved in scheduling play dates (which my daughter has managed to do on her own…she has no fear of asking adults for what she wants), and getting to know the teachers better.  The last few months I have started to realize what I had been missing out on while working full time. For the record, I am not writing this in judgement of working moms or SAHMs, I’m just writing this on my experience.  I was able to see both sides of the spectrum, and realize what an amazing experience my daughter has had for the last three years.  For example…

On a regular basis, she will speak to us in Hebrew words.  When she was 2 and 3, she would get frustrated that we didn’t know what she was talking about.  Now, she teaches us.  Last year, she was angry that we didn’t know what a shofar was, now she proudly sings songs that demand we “blow the shofar”, and we happily oblige.  For the last two Chanukah celebrations, we sat through programs full of  religious songs and terms we didn’t know, this year, we celebrated Chanukah in our home with little gifts and displaying her home-made menorah while she told us stories about the Macabees and the burning of the oil. 

This year is the last year we will be celebrating Chanukah.  Next year, our daughter will attend a public school where she will become even more wise to the ways of Santa and the commercialism that has taken over the holidays.  And though I am excited for her to enjoy Christmas as we know it, I am sad to leave behind the Jewish traditions that have become apart of our family. 

A few weeks after she was born, she developed RSV.  At any given time, she would spike fevers, or have difficulties breathing, so I was afraid to leave her with anyone.  We went everywhere together. For 18 months.  Finally, enough was enough.  I needed to go back to work full time, and she needed socialization.  My son had done very well at a private school known for its routine and emphasis on education, but I knew that wouldn’t be the right place for my little girl.  She needed coaxing, a comforting and loving environment.  A place where she would feel confident and secure, yet have artistic freedom and education.  She needed her “Bubbe”.  The first few days I dropped her off, she cried when I left.  The first day I called to check on her and make sure she was OK.  The second, and third day, they called me to tell me she was fantastic.  As soon as I would leave, she would don a smile and color and play and have the best time of her life.  Unless you are a mother, you cannot imagine the relief you feel when you drop your child off in the care of someone else, and they treat them like their own.  It is an amazing feeling.

This year, though only four months into it, I have already realized what I have been missing out on, and what she has been getting.  She loves all of her teachers, and even recognizes that they all have their own personal style.  As we walk down the hall to her classroom, she stops at the rooms of each of her past teachers to say hello or good-bye, give them hugs, and find out what the kids are learning that day.  She walks with confidence into her own classroom and consoles the kids in her class who are timid or sad, playfully hugging and greeting the other ones.  Every day after school she reports to me what each person in her class did that day, what her teacher said, how she was rewarded, etc.  She stops by the EEC Director’s desk every day to ask for a sticker.  You can tell by her walk that she rules her school.  My daughter is amazing.  I don’t know if I had that much confidence at her age.  She amazes me everyday.

And though I would like to take 100% credit for that, I can’t.  I can’t because I know at least 25% of that comes from her experience at her Jewish school.  After this last Chanukah program, the Director and I were speaking and I told her how sad I was that this was our last one.  And how grateful my husband and I were of the time our daughter had here. Again, to find an institute that cares for your children in a way you hope all child care facilities would, is priceless.  I am going to miss the parents, the programs, the teachers and I know she is going to miss her friends.  It’s exciting and sad at the same time to know that 2011 brings the beginning of an end, as well as a new beginning.

At one point last year we considered taking her out of Midbar and enrolling her in a private school more focused on education, committed to having our daughter reading by the time she got to kindergarten.  I spent alot of my time sweating the small stuff…private or public? intense curriculum or more relaxed? secular vs. non-secular?  Now that we are living our choice, I see the bigger picture.  Sure, she may not be reading when she walks in the doors of kindergarten, but she is going to walk in with confidence.  She is going to have pride in her school.  She is going to know what a sense of community is like.  Things that she learned by attending Midbar Kodesh.  I am so proud of our her, and so happy that the gamble we made on her early education turned out to be a good one.  A great one.  As parents, we spend so much of our time worrying about the dice we are about to throw for our children’s future.  It is comforting to know that sometimes our throws are lucky.     

Happy Chankukah!
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