Social skills taught at preschool

The Jerusalem municipality offers a service to selected children at preschools to help them improve their social skills, as I just found out today.

Upon my dropping off our daughter at preschool this morning, the head teacher asked to speak with me and told me that she had selected her as one of seven children to meet twice weekly with a specialist to develop her social skills. She handed me a permission slip, which I will be returning signed to the preschool this afternoon.

We can tell, and the teacher confirmed to me this morning, that our child’s social skills are stronger this year than they were the year before. Still, for all of her innate intelligence, she is often awkward around other children, and there are some likely reasons for this.

First of all, as an only child, our daughter spends a disproportionate amount of time with me and her mother, having conversations with us at a fairly high level about complex and sometimes philosophical matters (she’s not quite six-years-old yet). Relatedly, she has an incredibly vivid and active imagination and regularly engages in conversations with her group of imaginary friends who live in her rich, imaginary universe of heroines, heroes, and villains. If other children aren’t interested in hearing her fantasy stories, she dramatically loses interest in playing with them.

Also, she speaks well in three languages and thinks about the intersections between these languages. She thinks about which words have similar and dissimilar meanings in Hebrew, Russian, and English; about which words rhyme; about what letter sounds exist in her three languages; about how some expressions can be translated directly from one language to another, whereas others cannot… This is only my personal perspective, but our daughter seems to often be bored in conversations with other children.

Still, it is abundantly clear that our daughter yearns for meaningful relationships with other children. Whenever we go to the playground, she always expresses a desire to play games with others, but she never quite knows how to initiate interactions with them. She’s not shy; that’s not the problem. But she can’t seem to keep conversations going for long with other children and tends to bore quickly of their children’s games and conversations.

Our preschool teacher is a lovely woman with many years of professional experience in education, and she confirmed and affirmed all of my sentiments. It was difficult, she told me, for her to select only seven of her students for this special program, but she decided to primarily favor those preschoolers who would be entering first grade next year, as she wants them to be maximally prepared for primary school.

In any case, I feel very grateful for our daughter to have this opportunity. I know that socializing with other children is something that she needs to work on for the sake of her happiness; and while I burst with pride in describing her exceptional communication and critical thinking skills, I also worry that these set her awkwardly apart from the majority of her peers.

The heartwarming house sale

Home alone

For Mama, everything changed dramatically [following Papa’s death]. Where would she live? What would she do with the rest of her life? Whom would she do it with? Clearly, she still had to sell her too large house, but then– what?

-Me, ‘When the rabbi’s wife died’, Nov. 27th, 2020

Following my Papa’s death ~2.5 years ago, Mama went through a long process of selling the house. She put it on the market; took it off the market; put it on; took it off… Finally, as of this week, the house has acquired new ownership.

Now, this would have been a relief under any circumstances for all of us. The house, after twenty-one years, had to go. It was entirely too big for one woman, and nearly every corner of it reminded her of Papa. From my perspective, it had become for her an enormous prison cell. The phrase that would constantly come to my mind was: Mom is rattling around inside that big house all by herself.

I remember Babushka (my mother’s mother) also worrying regularly about this after my Papa died. How can she live alone in that huge house? She would say. She simply cannot stay there by herself. Poor Svetachka. She tells me she’s okay… but I know my daughters.

Anyway, we all knew the house had to be sold, and we were all worried for Mama.


The lovely, lovely family

The new owners are a family of church-going, Zionistic Christians, originally from India, and they have simply exuded kindness towards Mama.

In one of their exchanges, they wrote to her the following [edited for grammar]:

… Yes, definitely, your beautiful home will be in good hands… [We’re from] a Christian home with values and ethics… from India… Almost everyone… [has] visited Israel from [our] family… so we do have tons of respect for Jewish families; and we are so glad that we are buying from you…

For Mama, who had found herself and her family free from the USSR in the mid-70’s to begin life anew in their Jewish State of Israel, this was profoundly moving. She mentioned that she would love to some day give this delightful Indian Christian family a personal tour of Jerusalem, where I live now.

And:

Whenever you miss your home, please stop by. [We] completely understand it’s very emotional; plus you stayed for 21 years, so you are part of the house.

All of this was obviously far above and beyond what one might expect from the people who purchase one’s house, but what made us cry was the following: The new owners purchased Papa’s book and vowed to keep it forever in his office where he had written it.

Wow, right?


Moving [on]

Mama is now living in a lovely apartment in Princeton, NJ, which both of my parents had always loved visiting for its museums, theaters, parks, etc.

Of course, unpacking all of the many boxes is a tremendous project for her, but things are gradually coming together, and she seems to me genuinely happy in her new space.

When we ordered a bouquet of flowers for her, we did so, in part, as a gesture of support to help her through a challenging transitionary period, but it actually seems that she’s doing quite well, thank goodness!

From my perspective as a son, the sale of my younger brother’s childhood home could not possibly have gone any better. My mother and father had lived in that house for longer than they had ever lived anywhere else, but the time had definitely come to move on…

And my Mama is doing well, which was my only real concern.


P.S. America, or: Jerusalem

I wrote a poem shortly after completing this post. Click here to read it.