Monthly Archives: October 2012

31 for 21 – Switching our boys to the cheder

Today is Day 6 of 31 for 21, a blogging effort to raise awareness for Trisomy 21.

After my last post, some of you may be wondering why my boys are in the school they’re in and not the same school as their peers.  Initially I did this to ease the acclimation for our then fourth grader, since the administration of the school he went to (Amichai)  was much more flexible and understanding toward new immigrants than the cheder, who expect boys to very quickly perform like kids who have lived in Israel all their lives.  They also provided tutoring for new immigrants to help them learn the language.  Then as time went on last year, I started to think that Amichai could be a good option for all of our boys and registered ds6 there for first grade.  It has so many advantages and is technically a better fit for Americans than the cheder – the  main thing that was missing was a strong peer group from boys in the community.  At that point I decided I was willing to be the pioneer and send my boys here and trusted that others moving here would realize it was a valid option.  All it would have taken was one or two other families to do the same to have made Amichai a viable educational option to mainstream families.  But no one else made this choice, and it became obvious to me that my kids were going to pay the price by being socially isolated if I left them there.

That’s the cliff notes version of a very involved issue.  A week and a half into this school year (ie a month ago), I made the decision to transfer them to the local Talmud Torah for social reasons.  This was prior to my boys experiencing any social negativity, but it became clear to me that there’s no way to be part of the charedi community and to make visible choices that are different than what everyone else does.  If we hadn’t had so many other things to deal with, I would taken care of this during the summer but I was busy trying to keep my head above water with a new baby and doctor visits and nursing…and I didn’t have any head space to think about it.

I didn’t anticipate having much of an issue with the transfer.  Why not?  1) Firstly, it was the very beginning of the school year, not weeks into it.  The time before the holidays is always a time of irregularity in all schools. Studies in earnest don’t start until after Sukkos vacation.  2) We’re part of the community and they know our family.  We have an eighth grader at the cheder who is an excellent student and has made a great transition.  We have two more boys in their gan system.  They knew ds6 since he was in their kindergarten last year and was one of the most advanced kids in his class despite being a native English speaker.  There are plenty of people who could vouch for us.  3) Last year, I had a conversation with the principal before registering ds (then 9) at Amichai, to find out if there was any transfer policy that would cause an issue for him at a later date.  I explained that Amichai had support services for  new olim that I thought it would make his transition to life in Israel easier and my plan was to transfer him to the cheder after a year or two, when he was acclimated.  The principal said he understood that and there shouldn’t be any problem.  I wouldn’t have made this school choice without this assurance in advance.

But now that conversation has been forgotten.  When I called the principal, I was told that they don’t take boys from Amichai.  He told me my boys will be behind (remember, ds6 had only been in this school for eight days a this point) and it’s too complicated and it’s impossible.  I’m not going to go into the specifics of what was said, but I finally told the principal that they sounded like excuses and asked what was really going on.

One reason I haven’t written about this because it’s not pretty.  Everyone involved is a good person with good intentions.  But it’s a political issue and what is best for my kids isn’t part of the equation.

Some of you may say I need to find insiders to help me get my kids in.  We’ve tried that from several angles.  One friend is a peer of the decision makers and got the inside scoop on why this is being done, because we seem like the least likely American family for this to happen to and it doesn’t make sense to anyone.  He was very, very upset about this decision as well as the reasons and told them what they were doing to us was terribly wrong.  I had guessed about what was going on from some veiled hints and when I heard the insider’s version it wasn’t a shock to me, it confirmed what I thought.

I spent way too long going over and over in my mind what to do.  Who to contact, how to approach them, was it a mistake to want them in a school that was taking this position, should I send them to a school in a different city instead, should I leave them where they are, should I homeschool them, what would I do with ds5 when he goes into first grade next year, what would we do if our boys were disenfranchised from the community, is the charedi community where we want to affiliate, etc, etc, etc.  My mind just kept going over and over all the different variations of possible problems and solutions.

We had a meeting about this issue right after Yom Kippur with the chief rabbi of the city, who generally stays out of these situations.  Right now we’re in a waiting place.  After lots of efforts and intervention, we were told not right now and to be in touch with them again.  So after Sukkos we’ll give them a call once more.  I have a lot of ambivalence about this situation and regardless of how it all plays out, will probably continue to feel some ambivalence.

The second big reason I didn’t want to post about this is that I know there will be some people who think we deserved this, that we were out of touch for sending our kids to a different school to start with, that there must be something wrong with our family if the school doesn’t want to accept our kids, that we don’t understand charedi society….it’s been unpleasant enough to deal with all of this without these kinds of presumptions and I can’t explain myself more without saying something that will negatively reflect on others.  Yes, I was optimistic about taking a different path than what was typical and thought we could bridge it, but a year ago the emotional and religious climate of the community was different than it is now – and I still believe that was a reasonable belief then.

I do want to share that one thing that was very recently decided – this isn’t public yet but I told the chief rabbi that I felt a responsibility to tell people about this.  More people learn about the charedi community here from my blog than anywhere else, and it’s not fair if people come here with expectations of inclusion that won’t be actualized.  The cheder will no longer be accepting families without looking at them very closely.  They have said they don’t want to take Americans anymore, but this isn’t quite accurate.  I believe they’ll take families who they think are a good fit but my guess (and please realize this isn’t what they’re saying, but me reading between the lines) is that the families of most olim and baalei teshuva or anyone who doesn’t quite walk the mainstream charedi line are likely to be excluded.  This is a definite shift from how it’s been until now.

So that’s the short of a long situation.  It’s ironic to  me that I agonized for countless hours for the last year over the decision to send the boys to the cheder, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally decided to make the switch, thinking I would finally have peace of mind about a difficult choice.  Now this situation has me back and forth in my mind again, and what I’m trying to do is shut off my thinking about this and just wait to see what will happen.  This isn’t easy for me at all because it’s not my way of doing things.  So now I’m getting a chance to develop this aspect of my character.  :)

Avivah

31 for 21 – Simchas beis hashoeva sadness

Today is the fifth day of the 31 for 21 effort to raise awareness for Trisomy 21.

A couple of days ago I took my girls to a mother daughter event, with music playing while everyone danced together.  I was filled with such a feeling of joy to see my girls so much part of everything.

The happiness I felt then was matched last night by how sad I was at the simchas beis hashoeva sponsored by the local Talmud Torah school (cheder).  This is where my ds13 goes to school and where my other boys are currently registered in gan.  This is also where ds6 was until a month ago when the school year started.

Really, all the elements were there for it to be a fantastic evening.  Great music, energetic dancing, and plenty of room where it was held outdoors for everyone to be comfortable.  There was just one problem – my boys were miserable.  (Ds13 is in the US and ds5 fell asleep right before we left, so dd17 offered to stay home with them.)  Ds10 and ds6 wandered around trying to find a way to join in and feeling they didn’t belong.  Finally they just sat down at the side.

I had been watching from where I was at for a while, trying to see where they were.  When I finally saw them, I went over to see how they were doing.  One turned to me with tears in his eyes and told me he didn’t know anyone, and the other sadly said he wanted to go home.  So we left.

Ds6 is a very friendly boy who knew all of these boys from kindergarten and was considered one of them until a month ago, and felt so rejected.  When I commented to him that he knows so many people, he looked at me dejectedly and said, “I hardly have any friends any more.  None of them know who I am anymore.”  He said they don’t talk to him when he speaks to them now.  Ds10 hasn’t been able to get to know any of the boys because he’s not in school with them.

In the entire crowd there, we were the only ones who send our boys to a different school, even though it’s just a five minute walk from this school.  We’re part of this community but it seems my boys are essentially not.  This was the potential  issue I grappled with for the last year when trying to decide about ds6’s school placement, wondering if this would be something to worry about.  Finally I decided that he knows all these boys and they like him, and he can continue to be friends with them outside of school hours.  But I was wrong.

Unfortunately, ds6 has already had another very unpleasant experience when we went to shul less than a week ago.  Some older boys (already knowing the answer) asked him if he has a male or female teacher.  When he answered that his teacher is a woman (ironically, the woman who was making the kiddush at shul that everyone was there to celebrate with), they started making fun of him.  And then some boys his age started making fun of him because of this as well.  He came home and spent a half hour curled on the floor of his room crying instead of of being at the meal.  I see him being pushed to the outside of the social circle and it doesn’t make it any easier that I know it’s not about him but about the social reality of how tightly defined communities are.

I guess I’m too sensitive and so are my kids, and maybe they’ll just have to learn to toughen up.   This is a new reality for us.  Maybe this happens to everyone and kids just have to learn to deal with feeling rejected.  But it’s hard to see and I blame myself for making a choice based on my ideals instead of going along and doing what everyone else does.

Avivah

31 for 21 – Proof of cuteness :)

Today is Day 4 of 31 for 21, a blogging effort to promote awareness of T21.  Click here for a list of lots of great blogs of those who are participating!

After mentioning yesterday how cute Yirmiyahu is, I realized I owe my readers some pictures!

Me and Yirmyahu today

Today dd17 was with some friends who all were going crazy over him (as usual) and she took the following pictures.

Yirmiyahu, 3 months old

Who is that looking at me?!

Yirmiyahu began smiling when he was ten weeks old, about three weeks ago.  This is the first time we managed to catch his smile on camera.  Dd thinks the angle is awkward and doesn’t show his true cuteness and she’s right, but I’m sharing it with you anyway.

I love my big sister!

 

She makes me crack up!

Avivah

31 for 21 – Seeing the symptoms instead of the person

This month is National Down Syndrome Awareness month.  This year I’m joining in the 31 for 21 blogging effort to raise awareness about Trisomy 21.  Why 31 for 21?  There are 31 days in October, and in T21, the 21st chromosome is triplicated.  In the coming days I’ll be sharing about questions I’ve been asked about T21, as well as other topics not related to T21 at all.

This morning I took dd16 and dd11 to a community event for mothers and daughters.  A couple of minutes after I walked in, a staff member at one of the schools approached me and peered into the stroller.  (Yes, I do sometimes use a stroller rather than the wrap!).  She looked at Yirmiyahu and with surprise in her voice said, “He’s so cute!”  She had cornered me about a month ago when I was at the school to inquire about if the news she had heard that we had had a baby with special needs was true.  At that time I got the impression that she thought this was something hush hush that I should be feeling ashamed or sad about, which isn’t even a tiny bit true.  Today she seemed surprised that he was cute because she knew he had T21 and that’s not what she was expecting.  (I know, this is my cue to insert a current photo here but I don’t have one so you’ll have to scroll back to other posts that have pictures.:))

I said, “Of course he’s cute!”  I had picked him up and she looked at him close up and said, “He looks like a normal baby.”  I have an emotional trigger to the word ‘normal’ – does my baby having T21 mean he’s not normal?  I replied with a smile, “Yes, he is a normal baby but maybe a little cuter than usual.”  “But he doesn’t look like anything is wrong with him,” as she looked at me questioningly.  I could tell she was wondering if she was mixing me up with someone else, so I confirmed for her, “He has Down syndrome.”  “But he doesn’t look like it.  How can you tell?  There are five signs, right?  But I don’t see any signs of it.  Are you sure he has it?”

I wasn’t enjoying this conversation from the very first comment and was trying to remain polite.  What does she think, that I’m making it up?  I told her there are more than fifty possible signs of Down syndrome (maybe more than 100) and which signs people with T21 have vary from person to person.  She wanted to know which signs Yirmiyahu had but I thought that was none of her business so instead I assured her that we had done genetic testing and we were absolutely positive that he has T21.

I don’t tell most people that I see locally that Yirmiyahu has T21. Not because I’m embarrassed or because I want to keep it a secret – not at all.  I’m very comfortable speaking about it and Yirmiyahu is perfect just as he is.  But I know that most people have negative preconceptions about T21 (as I did before Yirmiyahu was born) and I want to give people a chance to appreciate him as a sweet baby without them looking for the ‘label’ when they first see him.  Once they have a chance to see him as a baby rather than as a syndrome, then at a later point I can share with them about his diagnosis and then there’s a place for more helpful dialogue.

Today the woman who was looking at him was looking for signs of his diagnosis rather than seeing him as a baby and that bothered me.  I know I can’t control people’s reactions and I’m sure there will be many interesting interactions in the future when I’ll be asked about this issue.  But I so much wish for now, and even more for the future as Yirmiyahu gets older and it becomes more obvious that he has T21, that people will be able to see him for himself.

Avivah

Enjoying the first days of Sukkos

What a lovely Sukkos we’re having so far!

Dd17 is great about doing crafts with the kids, and this Sukkos was no exception!  The day or two before the holiday, she helped them make a beautiful diarama of a mini sukka, fully decorated inside with a table, chairs, paper chains hanging from the schach, and a table covered with tiny bowls of food (made of clay).  She even affixed a light to the ceiling of the diarama!

She also helped them  make the project below – a lulav and esrog.

Ds6, ds5, ds3 each with a homemade lulav and esrog

They used small pieces of bamboo for the lulav, and attached leaves for the hadasim and aravos.  For the esrog, she gave them each two sections of an egg carton which they taped together and then covered with yellow fabric.  I think she said she affixed the dark brown ‘pitom’ (tip of the esrog) by sticking it on top of a stick that was inserted inside the esrog.  The littles had a great time making these and getting into the holiday spirit!

While she was doing this, the other kids were making decorations for the sukka – a neighbor gave them a package of colorful patterned paper, and I was amazed at their creativity – they made a couple of hanging decorations that looked like what you would buy in the store.  They also made the prerequisite paper chains (doesn’t everyone make these??  I remember making these as a kid!), and drew pictures to hang on the walls.

Last year, a neighbor who has two sukkas and lives just a few houses away offered us the use of their second sukka for our meals.  They used to live in our apartment and know that the porch isn’t very large, definitely not big enough for a family our size to eat meals together there.  We appreciatively accepted their offer and enjoyed hosting guests in their spacious sukka last year, and made a small sukka on our porch that was used for sleeping in and for individuals to eat in for non-formal holiday meals.  This year, the husband spoke to my husband and apologetically told him that as much as they’d like to, they couldn’t make the same offer since they were hosting large communal events that would require the use of both of their sukkahs.  We were so grateful for the use of their sukka last year and certainly didn’t feel they owed us any kind of apology for not being able to do the same thing again!

We decided that we’d manage with our small porch sukka for meals.  True, some of us would be eating inside the house and others in the sukka, which wasn’t a super festive atmosphere, but you can only work with what you have.  Buying a freestanding wood sukka was not only expensive but would take time and energy that dh just didn’t have.  Then less than a week before Sukkos, dh got a call from a friend who had moved from Karmiel a number of months ago – he had left his sukka behind in a storage unit, and would we like to have it?  Since he and his wife were just two people, I couldn’t imagine it could possibly fit us, but it was 6 feet wide by 12 feet long – not super spacious for our family, but definitely room for us all.  We happily accepted his offer, and dh and the kids spent late Friday afternoon assembling it.  (At that time, dd16 asked me if the middles should be doing something to get ready for Shabbos instead, As to where we put it, we’re lucky to be on a culdesac, therefore most of the people in our building don’t use the parking lot next to our building since they’d rather park right in front.  Our parking lot gets minimal traffic; no cars ever go into the furthest third of it, which is where we put our sukka.  The lot is paved with brick and lined with flower bushes and there’s a beautiful view of the hills as well, so it was very pleasant and there was plenty of room for the kids to safely run around and play during the meals.  We felt so glad to have a sukka where we could all have our meal together!

Then on Sunday (erev Sukkos), dh spent the first few hours of the morning with Yirmiyahu at the pediatrician because we were concerned that he had an upper respiratory infection and I was warned by a couple of parents of children with T21 to be vigilant about this because it can quickly turn into something more complicated.  Directly from that appointment I took Yirmiyahu with me to catch a bus to Maalot, where he had an appointment for an ultrasound on his kidneys and bladder.  The bus driver told me to get off at the wrong place, so I had to ask a couple of people for directions to get where I was really supposed to be.  The second person I asked was American, and as we chatted, I found out that she had just made aliyah a few weeks ago.  As we chatted even longer, I asked her name and realized she had emailed me during her pilot trip right after Yirmiyahu was born, wanting to learn about Karmiel.   Such a small world!

The appointment was a whopping fifteen minutes of waiting, then five minutes for the ultrasound itself.  Since I had a couple more hours to wait until the bus back to Karmiel would be leaving, I strolled around the shopping district and picked up some beautiful laminated posters for our sukka – though the kids had made some decorations, this is only our first year decorating a sukka here and I knew there would still be empty space to fill.  When I got home it was an hour before Sukkos, so I had just enough time to put the posters up and admire what everyone had done to the sukka before my last minute holiday preparations.

A few hours before Sukkos began, a neighbor offered us a loveseat that she was giving away.  We didn’t need it for our home and she put it outside right before Sukkos began for whoever wanted it to take it.  A couple of hours later we were having dinner in the sukka when ds6 told me he was tired and asked to lay down somewhere.  I couldn’t let him go home to sleep since even though it was close by, no one would be with him, but then I realized that this loveseat (which had been put just a short distance from the sukka and was easily moved closer) would provide a comfortable place for him to lie down right outside the sukka.  It ended up being used by a number of the kids as a place to sit and relax during all of the meals.  Ds19 and ds10 slept in that sukka the first night, the others slept in our porch sukka.  Then the next night dh slept with most of the boys in the big sukka, and the girls slept in the porch sukka.  Holiday style camping out.  :)

We had a little Sukkos style excitement when the first afternoon, we had strong gusting winds at the very end of lunch which lifted the bamboo mats that covered the top right up, up and away!  (I was inside the house with Yirmiyahu when this happened, so ds5 ran inside and breathlessly told me about what happened – “A huge wind suddenly blew off all the schach and I was frightened!”)   Ds19 had tied the bamboo mats on to our porch sukka (since last year they were blown off into our neighbor’s yard and I wanted to avoid a repeat of that), but only on one side, so they were blown against the wall and rolled up under the eaves of the building- it was a good thing this happened at the end of the meal since we were left without a kosher sukka!

There are local simchas beis hashoeiva celebrations (can’t think how to succinctly translate that, sorry) every night at various synagogues; I hope to make it to one or two of them.  Tomorrow morning I’m going with the girls to an event that’s been organized for mothers and daughters.  It’s so nice to have so many holiday oriented activities that have been arranged for the community; it really adds to the feeling of immersion in the weeklong holiday.

Avivah