The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Soulfish Parenting: What This Jewish Mother Wants for Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized by Juliet on December 9, 2011

We are having serious tinsel/holly/red-and-green fatigue here in Temecula.  It’s crazy!  Yesterday was only December 8, but since our neighborhood public school’s Christmas decorating and crafts-related insanity began before Halloween this year, our pacing is all off.

Walk through the doors of my girls’ elementary school and it looks like Santa’s elves threw up Christmas everywhere.  And yet if I hear one more person complaining (always bitterly!  Oh so bitterly) about how “the kids are robbed of the fun of Christmas” and “you can’t even say Christmas anymore” and “they (whoever they are) took it away from us” I’m going to the be one throwing up everywhere.

Because seriously?  Are you kidding me?  We have:  wreaths, Christmas trees, something white that I am pretty sure is called “flocking,” and a bunch of red and green ribbons decorating the outside of the school.  We have Christmas trees, an actual decorated Christmas tree, and ornaments decorating the front office and principal’s office.  My kids have made or are in the process of making or having nervous breakdowns over the difficulty of making:  red and green Christmas Christmas countdowns (modified with “days until Chanukah” written in by the teacher for my daughter), gingerbread houses, reindeer food, Christmas trees, wreaths, candy canes, a visit to the jolly elf store to buy “winter presents,” elf hats, a (very difficult sounding) straight pin and holiday patterned fabric Christmas tree ornament, and the major schoolwide fundraiser of a Christmas tree lot.

Calling it a “winter tree lot” does not NOT make it a Christmas tree lot, by the way.

Usually I send Eva to the “holiday boutique” and she buys presents.  This year I have both kids in elementary school (their only year EVER that they’ll be on the same campus; Jane is a kindergartner and Eva is a fifth grader) and we are all feeling the holiday fatigue.  It’s not any one given thing.  One construction paper reindeer cutout or “Away in a Manger” song is not going to kill us.  It’s the super-saturation of elves upon starlight mints upon tinsel that is so soul-crushing.

It is the sprig of mistletoe that breaks the camel’s back.

So neither girl wants to attend the boutique.  Our school, probably like so many across the country, offers a shopping day for the kids, with tchochkes like “#1 Dad” mugs and novelty erasers.  Possibly unlike most, ours (1) is NOT a fundraiser; and (2) occurs during “instructional” time.

If you haven’t stepped into a public elementary school classroom lately, trust me:  it is a very busy place.  They are working on “the standards” 24/7.  Or 6/5.  Or in the case of Jane, who goes to half-day kindergarten, 3.5/5.  Do we really have time to pull kids out of class for 45 minutes or an hour at at time (not  to mention anticipation and money-counting before and excitement and distraction after)?  All of these festivities, each with their hour or two at a pop, add up.  And that’s not even taking into account our school’s own holiday, Polar Express Day, in which the entire school dresses in pajamas and watches the Christmas movie Polar Express together.  Kids (and mostly their parents) create train cars the kids can wear as costumes and there’s a parade.

In a time of dwindling instructional days, can we really spare that much time off of real learning?   And even if we can – if we are so confident that every child knows everything he or she should know by this point in the school year – why not take some of the hours (literally HOURS! Just one of my fifth-grader’s multiple holiday themed projects will take an estimated two to three hours of in-class time, not counting outside of class purchasing and preparation of materials) and do something truly educational?  You could do a science experiment!  The kids could write and act out a play!  They could learn square-dancing!  You know, all of those things we’ve sacrificed because “we don’t have time”…

Also, every time you turn around, someone is asking you for $7.50 or $12 or $3 or $8 for various fundraisers and activities.  It is relentless.  So during year-end, when we’re all feeling the pinch of expense upon expense, to have to pony up an extra $10 or $20 for my kids to attend a “jolly holiday” store to buy Christmas presents for the Christmas we don’t celebrate feels wrong somehow.  Especially when it’s stressing them out (really stressing all of us out) so much.

So I tell them, “Don’t worry.  I’ll pull you out of ‘class time’ and do something special with you while your class visits the boutique.”  Cocoa is made and put in the thermos.  Times are confirmed.  Meeting points are arranged.

There must have  been a full moon or something because everyone was in a total tizzy on my girls’ assigned day to shop.  (Classes are assigned time slots throughout the entire week, and my girls coincidentally had times on the same day.)  “The new girl is a Jehovah’s Witness!  The precocious organic-only boy told other kids the truth about Santa!  Twelve really poor kids didn’t bring any money!”  Everyone is having issues.

To top it off, both girls ended up going to the boutique after all.  It only took (literally) hours of back-and-forth and round-and-round discussion to get there.

The answer to all of these problems is so simple:  celebrate religious holidays at home with your own family!  Learn the “three Rs” plus some science, music, art, PE, and explorers of the New World at school.

Because all I want for Christmas is a little respect.  I want my children to feel as welcome as everyone else when they walk through the doors of the school.  I want school to feel like a warm, loving, nurturing place.

And I don’t want Christmas banned from schools.  I want teachers, administrators, the PTA, and all of the other adults involved in making the school run to WANT, on their own, to show that they care about my child as much as they care about all of the Christian children.  I want them to want us to feel welcome.  The beaten-down over-saturation feeling is as much from the disappointing realization that no, they really don’t care, as anything else.  Sticking a menorah in the middle of all of the red-and-green (when Chanukah doesn’t even begin until after break starts, and for the last time, Chanukah is not “the Jewish Christmas”) doesn’t cut it.

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