Some days I wonder: why do we homeschool? Wouldn't they all be better off in their respective classrooms, with peers and trained teachers? They certainly wouldn't be spending their time flying remote control helicopters, bickering, reading random pieces of paper lying around, doodling...
And then we have a good experience, and I know that it could not have happened if they were in school.
Last night I talked on the phone to a mother of a former classmate of 10 yo. She was consulting about potentially homeschooling her son; the bullying situation in school got unbearable and the child did not want to go to school in the morning. Moreover, the bullying was done by a kid who was supposedly a good friend, which made it even more devastating.
I sort of told it over to my 10 yo, telling him to watch out for this boy in shul, and to be nice to him. His response: "Why would they bully him? He even wears the same kippa as everyone else, not like me!" Oh, I so wish that everything would be that easy, and that every kid would look around and see no faults in others.
Today I finally sat 10 yo down to go over Yom Kippur Amida. Being an insane person (or overly ambitious), I have just given a class for women on the basic structure of Yom Kippur davening, so it felt funny that I prepared and taught this material to others, while my kid would be in the dark.
He had seen Rosh HaShana Amidah, so the beginning parts were easy. He chose to use Metsudah machzor which has translation side by side. I pointed out the differences in the Kedushat Hayom, and he sort of listened, sort of rolled his eyes. Then we got to viduy. He said, I know what it is: ashamnu, bagadnu... I read and translated the preliminary bit, and then he read each word of the acrostic. I focused on how Hashem knows everything, and how we might not even be aware that we have sinned. We read over most of the rest of viduy, and he got very serious and very sad. I saw that he was taking this all close to heart. I explained that Hashem forgives our sins, as long as we confess them sincerely. Hashem erases our sins, and they lift like smoke. He was teary-eyed, and he said that he is aware of how many mean things he has done. I told him to remember that sincere teshuva is accepted. I also told him that people who used to sin and then stop and repent are held in higher regard than people who never sinned.
I was starting to think that maybe I overdid it with viduy, until it was time to go to Costco, and the boys returned to their old cheerful selves, ramming each other with the carts. At that point, I was almost wondering whether any of this stuck, until he asked me, later on in the day, wouldn't it be embarrassing to recite viduy out loud, so that everyone would hear your sins? I said that people say it in unison, not too loudly, unless one's sins are well-known, and then they can be recited.
I do not know whether going over viduy is on a curriculum for 5th grade yeshiva. That brought me back to a question asked by a parent last night: how do I test my kids to make sure they are keeping up? I said that I do not do testing beyond state requirements, and I do not worry about keeping up. I worry about the level of each individual child. I felt that 10 yo is ready to be familiarized with the structure of Amidah, and that he was ready to take a closer look at viduy. What I do know, if those boys who are so abusive to her son would have had a sincere experience of sitting down with a parent, going over viduy, and thinking how their actions affect others, and how they will have to ask for forgiveness in just one more day, I bet the bullying situation would not have been so bad.
In the meanwhile, I ache for this boy and his intolerable situation. I ache for my kids who are not getting the calmest parent and the best education possible. I ache for the dayschool system which does not allow kids to blossom outside of a very narrow definition. I ache for the kids who will go into Yom Kippur and come out exactly the same way because nobody took the time to make it meaningful. I ache for mothers who resent having their kids home the whole Yom Kippur. I ache for the mothers who will try to make Yom Kippur meaningful, yet will feel that they do not live up to some impossible standard of self-sacrifice if they do not manage to daven AND feed everyone AND break up the fights AND keep the kids quiet because daddy came home to take as nap.
I ache for the sin of superficiality pervading Jewish community.
May this Yom Kippur strip all the veneer and reach deep into your heart.