Monday, August 25, 2008

Never let 'em see you sweat

One of the kids was watching Kindergarten Cop the other day. I stopped for a second and saw Arnold complaining that the kindergartners he was "teaching" were running amok. His friend gives him some advice:

Phoebe: [advising Kimble on how to be a teacher] Look, you've got to treat this like any other police situation. You walk into it showing fear, you're dead. And those kids know you're scared.
Detective John Kimble: [looks at her a moment then nods] No fear.
Phoebe: No fear.

Last night NBN held a Parent Education Forum here in Modi'in. At the last minute I decided to go, not holding out much hope that I would learn anything new, since I had attended events like this before.

I'm glad I went.

First of all, there was a session on high school students and the tests they must take (Bagruiot) if they ever want a chance of attending university. It was the first time I ever got a clear explanation of how this system works.

The other session was a more touchy-feely session, geared more towards those who just got off the boat this summer. But I felt I gained much from it.

The presenter noted that when you make Aliyah, you lose a certain amount of confidence: the language barrier, cultural differences, and most critically, perhaps, as a parent. You bring your kids here and its not easy for them. If they were good students in America, suddenly they feel stupid. And if they weren't good students in America, they feel really stupid. They miss their friends and their routine. And they blame you for it.

And you blame yourself for it.

And the kids know that. If you lose your confidence and become afraid, your kids are going to pick up on that in a second.

It happened to me several times over the year. What did I do? I thought. We had a perfectly nice life in Cedarhurst, the kids were settled and happy in their schools, they were actually learning, why did I create problems for myself, and for them?

When you start to think like that, you encounter problems. Your kids are staying up later than they should. You are allowing them certain freedoms they probably shouldn't have. If they tell you they feel sick, you let them stay home from school (we're talking those vague symptoms like a stomachache, not a raging fever--you know, the kind where as soon as the other kids leave they look at you expectantly and say, so what are we doing today? Yeah, that kind).

In general, the kids realize that on some level you have lost that confidence that brought you to this country. This is of course, very scary for them. How can they build their attachment and confidence in their new home if their own parents are struggling with it?

I myself did struggle with this at certain points during the year, but I am starting to feel a return of that old confidence. In America, I was a strong parent, setting up certain limits that I felt were appropriate for my kids. I lost a bit of that over here, partially due to a crisis in confidence (as in, did I screw my kids up forever?). But I am beginning to regain this balance. I am their parent. We made this decision to come here after much debate and soul-searching. We made this decision because we believed that Jews should live in Israel, and we could no longer go on believing one thing and living another. We stand by this decision and my kids have to learn to live with it. They have to adapt.

Please don't take that the wrong way. I am not unsympathetic to what they are going through. I know it is hard for them. I just need to teach them to cope with this struggle. And one of the best ways to do that is to show them how I am coping, indeed to show them that I am coping and not falling apart everytime a difficulty arises. And that I am still in charge around here and they have to live by the rules of the house even if life is difficult. This is a gift I can give to them and what I must remember as we approach the pressures of the school year.

So as my friend Ahnold would say:

Hasta La Vista, Baby.


Anonymous said...

You seem to have thought a lot before moving and you still ponder a lot about doing things right so don't beat yourself. I am sure you show your kids you know how they feel and this is great.

Leora said...

Sometimes in life you make a decision, and it turns out to be harder than you thought. You live with it. I hope you'll grow from it, as will your kids. I can understand wanting to stay home with a small ache if school is too hard, too challenging, too strange. I was never good at transitions, and I got sick a lot when I went to Israel at 17.

My neighbor survived all of these. She talks about these exams as though they were the hardest she's ever taken. She's now a prof at an Ivy League university, so it's not like she didn't have more challenges after. But at least for sciences, Israeli education can be very strong.

Keep writing about all this stuff. We'll keep listening.

Anonymous said...

I'm listening very closely!
P.S. But please don't say that you are completely abandoning the Jolie-Pitt free spirit method of parenting!

Fern Chasida said...

what a great post baila! boy, if i had a dime for every time i'm sure i've completely screwed up the young 'un's life, i'd be really rich (different issues of course).
anyway, sounds like you're going in the right direction. and i'd love an explanation about bagruot sometime.

Baila said...


Nah, I'm not beating myself over this. I've learned enough to know that everything in life is a process. How can we learn if we don't make mistakes?


I understand about the aches because you're dreading schools. I didn't mean to imply the kids are faking it--it's a psychosomatic thing. But I don't think the correct response is to let them stay home. Sooner or later they have to face the music. (BTW, this behavior decreased significantly towards the middle of the year.)

And I don't who's more nervous about the bagruiot--Liat or me.


I will never completely give up the Jolie-Pitt free spirit method of parenting. As a matter of fact, Isaac and I are planning to hop over to Africa to adopt a couple of kids. You know, the multicultural thing.


They only pay a nickel for that. And Maor could probably tell you everything you need to know about bagruiot.

Mrs. S. said...

It sounds like you're working hard on finding a good balance.

Aliyah and all that it entails _is_ a hard adjustment, and many times, I felt guilty that our kids were getting the brunt of it. (Ten years later b"ah, they are often mistaken for native Israelis.)

I agree with you that it's very important to make sure not to fall apart on the kids - on top of everything else they're going through. That would just be one change too many. As it is, family dynamics change with aliyah - the kids now know all sorts of things that we do not, and our Hebrew (or at least our accents) will never approach theirs. If the parents suddenly change their parenting style as well, I imagine that it would make life even harder for the kids.

rutimizrachi said...

As I've said to you before, you inspire me. Sounds to me like you're doing great. You have had a few little meltdowns, which I think are routine for the five stages of aliyah (which I would link to right now, if we had already had our educational coffee experience). :-)

Keep what you are doing. You sound like a very fine and balanced parent to me.

NB: Watch out for all the photo ops once you adopt those cute little Africans. They can go to your head. It's not good for the kids.

A Living Nadneyda said...

I would think one of the hardest things for older kids, especially teenagers, who come on aliyah, is to become culturally acclimated. So much of language acquistion, and the school experience, is culturally based. Israeli-born parents are, in most ways, better equipped to help their kids through the school system here because they themselves grew up in it. Kids who come from abroad and don't have the body language, linguistic style, musical familiarity, and many, many other things, are automatically at a loss.

Re: bagruyot, we have high school kids in the hospital who have completely amazed us, getting chemo while they take their exams, lying down in bed! The kids who do this have chosen to do it, sometimes because they don't want to miss out and fall behind, but often because they are excellent students, and good scholastic performance is a major focus of their identities. As long as they continue to focus on this identity throughout their illness, they find it to be an amazing source of strength for themselves (and for those of us around them).