We were spending Shabbos in Chicago, staying with a large family. It was so nice to stay in a house full of kids and toys. I watched how 4 yo made friends with 8 yo daughter of our hosts, and how the boys seemed to get along with the boys. They played a round of Chicago-opoly, talked about Willis tower and which other Chicago landmarks they would like to visit. I was told how the whole block is frum, and watched kids go from house to house, playing with friends. I became wistful of living in a large enough community, with enough people to have a whole block of frum kids.
In the afternoon, 10 yo and 8 yo went into the backyard to play basketball. A whole bunch of neighboring kids showed up for the son of the host. Next thing I saw was 10 yo leaving with them, going across the street. I was not pleased that he did not ask permission, or told me where he was going.
Next thing I see, he is coming back, fighting back tears. First thing I told him, I did not know where he went, so that is a problem. Then he told me how he went with those boys to play some sort of a game. They made him "it". Then they got into a little altercation. From what I gathered, he showed off a bit, and the other kids made fun of him: of his bukharian kippa, of his homeschooling ("what's 2 plus 2?"), of taekwondo. He finished with getting into a scuffle and using his taekwondo on a kid who claimed to be a black belt in karate. He was mostly upset that they said that he was weird, and all kids from our current city are weird.
So there we have it: such wonderful-looking yeshiva boys, with such great middos, making fun of a stranger because they knew they could. Never mind that we were asked whether our current city is in the US and whether we speak English there (I can assure you that we do). Never mind that these kids do not know whether Wisconsin and Michigan are states or cities. Never mind that in all the time we have been part of our secular homeschooling coop, my boys were never teased for the way they look, talk, dress or behave. These Chicago boys look frum, but they do not seem to understand that they did not behave in a manner befitting a religious Jew.
I talked to 10 yo. I said that there is nothing wrong with being weird or different. I said that the reason other boys made fun of him was to make themselves feel better. I said that they probably did not meet many kids who were homeschooled, or who wore different kippas. But the anguish that 10 yo was feeling was so mature, that it was making me sad. I said that he is better off being himself rather than showing off, and he is more likable as his true self. However, if people cannot accept him for who he truly is, that is their problem.
Once I was talking to this woman about homeschooling and she said the beef she had with it was that kids need to go to school to learn how to deal with teasing. At the time I do not remember what I answered, but it stuck with me. Now I have an answer: kids will have to deal with teasing whether they are homeschooled or not.
I was also saddened that nobody took the side of my son, although that's understandable: risk social consequences by siding with an outsider, or stay safely within the pack. Where is all that great Torah, where is the lesson of not oppressing the stranger because we were slaves in Egypt? I guess I am upset that these kids look all right, but they turned out to be somewhat rotten.
I still have school option on a back burner for my kids, especially during trying days. I fantasize how they could go and learn so much more than at home, and play with other kids, and be out of my hair. Then I have one of these brushes with reality of what school children are like, and I think how I would hate for my kids to be exposed to all this. I was talking to my husband how our kids are not having a standard childhood whichever way you slice it. I wonder whether I would want to give all of this up for conformity and close-mindedness.