Koala update: You have an American mom.

I grew up with this perception of the Israeli kids in school being pretty laid back, coming to school with their lunch packed casually in plastic bags. I thought it was really cool… because I was a kid, and anything I didn’t get to do was cool. Even if every year my mom took me to pick out whatever Hello Kitty, Lisa Frank, or My Little Pony lunchbox I wanted.

Fast forward to 2012. My son is three years old and starting his first year of official gan (gan trom trom). It’s the first year I’ll have to pack an ‘aruchat eser’ for him every day. That’s the 10am meal 3-5 year olds eat at gan because they don’t get a lunch until they leave at 2pm. I know right? I wouldn’t make it that long, either.

In so many ways, I’m already ‘that American mom’ since my kid always comes to gan dressed in clothes some of my neighbors go to work in. I make my kid say ‘please’ all the time. And I plan to send him in with peanut butter and jelly at least half the time.

Anyway, despite Koala’s abba bringing it up several times, I forewent the lunchbox option because I knew in my bones he’d only be starting out at the extreme end of Americanness. And any day now, that would start to matter more. And I remembered those chilled out Israeli kids with their plastic bags.

So I sent Koala to his first day with his Emek cheese sandwich and apple slices packed in a plastic Mister Zol bag.

When I went to pick him up, I was thrilled to hear he had a great time (!איזה בוגר). I was less thrilled that he was munching on a piece of sour apple taffy, his teeth highlighter green. But he was happy to show me around, and where he had eaten his aruchat eser.

“One thing though, Ima…” started his ganenet. “It’s not good to keep the lunch in a plastic bag, tied so tight… the food starts to go bad… So maybe tomorrow,” she added reluctantly, “keep it open?”

“Oh, sure…” And then I followed the ganenet to where she was taking his plastic lunch leftovers off the coat rack, where it had hung between a dozen… tiny backpacks.

“So… everyone brought tikim?”

“…yes.” She smiled kindly. Of course they did. And I immediately understood I’d be sending my kid with a backpack tomorrow, too.

As I took Koala’s hand and led him to the car, my mind wandered to the fact that, despite  my ability to be adaptable and flexible – after all, I attribute my aliyah success to that – despite it, when we get home, the first thing I would do – as a proud American – would be to brush his neon green teeth.

Israeli gan system, here we come.

Yowsa. Seven years from the month I made aliyah, I’m registering my first kid to ‘gan trom trom chova’ (compulsory kindergarten registration).

The Israeli gan/school system baffles me. And I get the feeling it isn’t going to get any clearer any soon.

But fortunately, the education registration website experience was spectacular! Smooth form-filling, clear instructions, and it even – are you sitting down? – worked perfectly in Chrome!

Yep, in seven years, we’ve all come a long way.

Nothing like Chabad gan to start the year off righteous.

Like anything religious ever at all, the Chabad gan in Tzur Hadassah comes with its share of politics. Residents are wary over a charedi takeover. Some of the dati-leumi are at odds with the representatives.

But me? I just love their gan. They run a tinokiya (baby daycare), peuton (toddler daycare) and gan chova (kindergarten). The two younger groups are together in the same building this year (a residential house in the new yishuv), and the latter has a facility in the old yishuv.

The ganenets are great, and the truth is, I’m a pretty laid-back parent. So we all mesh together very nicely, and agree where it counts for the most part.

The thing that really gets me spreading the word, though, is the extra mile they go. And, sure, they have Chabad cash to back them up (which probably helps keep the tuition low). But whatever. It’s the extra effort and finishing touches…

I mean, printed magnets with our kid’s angelic smiling face on them? Honey jar with a little apple glued to the top… And I’ll never turn down a shana tova chocolate bar.

Here’s to a sweet, healthy year, bound with security on all sides and, with whatever’s left, as much comfort as affordable.

First day(s).

Two kids, double the first day blues.

Well, I’ll admit: there’s nothing blue about Koala going to gan.  Sorry, but I’m not sorry. That kid has too much energy to be cooped up in a house while mama works. It’s for your own good, goddamit!

Bebe, however. That’s the sadness. It was rough sending Koala to the metapelet that first week. He didn’t look me in the eye. It was weird. It was hard. It’s the first tangible losing control of your kid. In a tiny amount, sure, but still. I’ve controlled everything so far. Now, there are unknowns, pockets of time throughout the day I will never have witnessed.

But, I like my metapelet (it’s round two) and I’m ready to go back to work properly. It’s a balance, being a working mom.

Bunny overload.

My head is not in Purim this year. I suppose I have a decent excuse, right?

So today was the Purim party at Koala’s gan. For a week I’ve been reminded to send him in dressed up. He’s a bit of a particular kid, so I wanted to keep it simple. And who are we kidding? I’m exhausted and my head’s not in it.

So I put him in his blue bunny pajamas. You know the one – a giant onesie with feet, a tail poking out and a hood with ears. I drew on his face with my eye-liner, a nose and whiskers.

It’s not that I thought I was being original; I thought I was being really lazy. So in that way, Koala would stand out.

Well, I was very wrong. My husband dropped him off this morning, and reported back to me: he had walked into a gan filled with… bunnies. White ones, in proper store-bought costumes. With pink ear hats.

And eye-liner faces.

The gananet said, “Oh! He’s like a bunny!” to which my husband replied, “He… IS… a  bunny…”

Oh well.

The Jewish State of education.

I feel a parental rite of passage has been reached tonight: next year’s daycare decisions. And so I begin the rant that I know others have had and yet here I am, new parent, new experiences, joining the fray.

Someone explain this to me:

This is a family-friendly country. Walk anywhere and easily spot a pregnant woman or a mother with a litter, big or small. Even take Charedim and Arabs out of the equation, and you’ll find tons of trendy maternity shops and baby stores in shopping centers across the country. Within the government’s basic health basket, couples are entitled to receive unlimited fertility treatments until they birth two children together – that’s to birth, not just to try.

Unfortunately, it is also a country where most parents have to work; the option of one stay-at-home parent is just so preciously rare.

Then why is the daycare situation so… dire? Why is it so troubling to get your toddler into a structured situation? Why are there three weeks in August when all baby daycares go on vacation at the same time? Why are there no long-term subsidized summer activities? Why does school let out at 1?

Money, money, money. Yes, I know. But it’s a deeper argument than just that. This is a place where so much creativity is utilized in making successful the medical, agricultural, technological, and military fields… Why not the very core of everything, our children’s education? I’m not just looking at you, Israeli government. I don’t think change must only stem from the corruption upstairs.

And my final question: As the Jewish state, founded on somewhat traditional (ok, touchy) Jewish principles, why would this country not work harder for a strong, successful education system for its children? For our children’s futures? Isn’t that something all strains of Judaism actually agree on, the value of education (never mind the details)?

We, the so-called People of the Book, can’t get our educational act together?

I don’t know yet which is worse: Paying through the ass for a Jewish education in the Diaspora or paying nothing for a sub-par education in Israel.