Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Carpool-Free Life in Israel

I didn’t raise my kids in the States for very long. They were only 4 and 2 when we made Aliyah, so I don’t have a huge point of reference for juggling kids' activities there. What I DO believe I have, however, is an ability to see the incredible differences in carpooling needs and extra curricular activities between the two countries.

I remember talking to a mother of six when we lived in Potomac and she told me that her four year old basically lived in the car. All afternoon she was out taking this kid to piano lessons and that kid to karate. And the four year old couldn’t stay home alone…so he spent hours schlepping along. I thought, at the time, how sad this was for all of them. And through the years, I’ve watched on Facebook as many of my friends in the States gear up for the carpool year ahead. There are charts, negotiations, discussions and hours of labor in order to fit the puzzle together.  

And then there is life in Israel. 

As I’ve worked, over the last two weeks, to piece together my children's school activities and after-school programs, I’ve marveled at the ease with which we do everything here. I don’t know if people outside of Israel can truly appreciate how hands-off and user-friendly our kids’ lives are.

Here are my examples. My school aged kids all take buses to and from school. 

Free buses.

My first two kids leaves the house at 7 and my second two leave at 7:15. I wave goodbye and off they go…my neighbors have even been known to snap pictures of them to show me how happy they are on their way to the bus. 
Here they are on their first day of school..walking to the bus

Then, I drive up the hill with Yakir and drop him in nursery school in our yishuv, and I’m on my way to work.

After school, they all return on their buses and walk home on their own. Their afternoon schedules are packed with activities. It’s like mobilizing a small army every day to complete a 1000 piece puzzle in record time. But, the brilliant thing about this 1000 piece puzzle is that it’s ALL completed in my yishuv, within a short walk from our house.

The wealth of talented people that we have Neve Daniel is utterly spellbinding, and the opportunities to enjoy enrichment programs amazing.  Two of my kids take art from a professional, commissioned artist. They walk two doors away to enjoy this privilege. 

Take off to space! Matan and Yehuda with recent art work.

One kid takes basketball, given one block away. Three take judo from a talented and patient black belt instructor.  Yep, they walk there. 
Eliav in his Judo outfit 

Now, one has decided that he wants some new activities this year, and he’s taking a math enrichment class and a full year of percussion instruction. The percussion class is taught by a professional musician who has an elaborate studio…you guessed it. Right in the yishuv. 

Amichai's first day of drums!

Finally, my child who is on the regional basketball team has practices in another yishuv, Alon Shvut. This is my only carpool. But it's only one way – they get a neighborhood bus home for the cost of $1 a trip.

It’s truly amazing. Until recently, about the only thing that you couldn’t accomplish in the yishuv was swimming lessons. But now a family has built a pool and there were lessons there all summer. It is hard to convey just how independent and self-sufficient our children learn to be from a young age. They get themselves to (and back from) almost every after school activity each day.

My car sits in front of my house all afternoon. 

It gets used to drive to the park. 

To drive to the library. 

To get ice cream. 

But for carpools and schlepping? Virtually never.

And this, my friends, is life in Israel.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Flying Off to the Next Adventure

When I think about my first born son, I remember the days when he was first born, and the adorable froggy outfit that we borrowed from friends.

I remember each milestone, each moment when he sat up, smiled, rode a bike, ate sushi (yep, that's true), and played with his new brother, Yehuda.

And if you asked me to picture Matan, in my mind, I might have a picture that looks like this

or this

or this.

What I wouldn't have, however, is the picture of this....

And I certainly wouldn't think about this:

Because to me, my 14 year old is still a little guy. He was my first grand baby love, the one who taught me how to be a mom. And he continues to teach me so much each and every day.

And tomorrow, he leaves for high school. It's hard to explain to people abroad what the Israeli high school system is like. The boys learn a great deal in high school and their days are quite long. Some boys return home each night after their learning, but they often do so at 7 or 8 at night. For this reason, and for many others, many boys and their families choose to have them attend sleep-in schools. Now, these schools could be as close as the next town over, or as far as a few hours away. The idea isn't to send them far away, but to send them to a nurturing location that will help them to grow and learn; the school that is best for each child.

We wrestled a lot with where to send Matan, and Sussya was an obvious choice for us. It's not easy to think of him being away all week and returning home for Shabbat (and often on Tuesday afternoons) but we have watched other boys who have graduated from the school and we've marvelled at how the school has tranformed them.

The school has four main programs: The Beit Midrash Study Program where they continue their connection to holy texts and to their studies; the Environmental Courtyard where they learn about development, reconstruction and restoration; Social Involvement where they do chesed (acts of kindness) and Environmental Studies.

As we were discussing Matan's options, I told him that it's not often that parents say to a kid "Please go somewhere to school where you won't have to only pour your heart out all day over books! We want you in an environment that will develop your character, take you hiking the Land and expose you to so many other aspects of the world."

And he listened.

So now, the consequences of this choice is that we are taking him to school tomorrow. And my heart breaks a little bit just thinking about it. I'm so excited for him. And at the same time, it's going to be a major change in our family, in our interactions and in our time that we spend with him.

And we have to hope and pray, as have parents since the beginning of time, that we've given him the tools he needs to continue growing; that we've helped him to develop the wings with which he will fly to this next adventure.

Fly away my first born - but know the nest is always, always here for you when you return.