By Jodie Fishman
(Kveller via JTA) – My parents still have the seder plate I made when I was in my final year of preschool. The teachers demonstrated how to draw an egg, shank bone and all the other essential accoutrements — and 5-year-old me drew two happy pigs, complete with belly buttons, basking in the sunshine.
My mom remembers her mortification when I skipped out the classroom door and proudly presented her with that masterpiece. Though we may not have used my seder plate for Passover that year, my mom kept the plate as a funny memory. (Also, in my defense: Pigs may not be kosher, but at least they don’t contain leavened bread.)
Now here I am wrapping up another year of Jewish preschool: My oldest is about to graduate and take the leap into the vast, scary world of public kindergarten. And while she and her younger brother continue to astound me with what they’ve learned at preschool — including, yes, what goes on the seder plate — the lessons for me have also piled up.
Old Testament stories are my kids’ “Game of Thrones.” Take the basic outline of the HBO series, extract the lust but retain the plot twists, alliances, tragedies and triumphs — and you basically have the Torah.
No doubt I learned these stories when I was in preschool, but they really came to life for my kids this year.
My daughter came home from school one sunny, spring day insisting that she wanted to stay inside and direct her own version of The Ten Commandments. There had been a re-enactment of Exodus that day — replete with plagues, pharaohs and parting seas — and my daughter wanted to dress her brothers as shepherds. I’ve loved reconnecting with these stories through my kids’ eyes — whenever I feel pressure to tell a bedtime story, I now have a captivating collection from which to draw.
A pretend fire is almost as good as the real thing. I’ve always appreciated Judaism’s core value of community, and our preschool does a phenomenal job of making sure that everyone feels welcome and included. My son’s class made a pretend fireplace this winter — and, man, he was proud of that thing. Anytime we passed his classroom, he invited everyone in sight to come in and warm their hands by the red and orange construction paper flames. The idea that there’s always room at the proverbial hearth really struck a nerve with my 3-year-old, who likes to engage with friends and strangers alike. Thanks to him, I now know a lot more people on our block.
The principal’s office isn’t scary. I spent plenty of time worrying about Disney princesses this year. First, I questioned whether my daughter’s obsession would ruin her self-image. Then I wondered if it was normal that my son also wanted to dress up in a glittery gown for Halloween. So I went to the director, who told me that my son doesn’t have a fully formed gender identity yet. She recommended some reading — I guess sometimes there is homework in preschool? — so I could decide for myself how I felt about all this. I learned that I’m OK with anyone in my house being a princess, and that everyone in the school is a partner in the quest for my kids’ well-being.
Mensches are made in preschool. My son’s class talked a lot about the word mensch. He spent the beginning of the year constantly asking what a mensch would do (“Mommy, would a mensch have to share his pretzels?”), but by the end of the year he was telling me definitively. And the thing is, both my kids’ teachers were showing them — and me — the meaning of that word all year long. When we couldn’t figure out why my daughter was crying at a particular activity, her teachers gave me a much-needed hug —and followed up with weekly progress reports. I can’t imagine in the rest of her academic career she’ll ever encounter that level of caring again.
Pigs can belong on seder plates. I don’t mean I’m going to serve ham at a festive holiday meal. Instead, I’m going to embrace the creativity — and the messiness and silliness — that’s just part of life with little ones.
My son recently came home with a drawing of a “train,” though, in truth, all I could make out was a smattering of random, shakily written numbers — but I proudly hung it up. There will be plenty of time for my kids to play by the rules; for now we’re embracing the things that excite them. And to remind myself of that, I just may display my pig seder plate at our holiday table next year.
(Jodie Fishman is a child health professional.)
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