I recently attended a workshop for parents in Brooklyn on how to choose a preschool. I’ll spare you my rant about how it’s insane that we need a workshop on this. But there I sat, along with a dozen other parents in our semicircle, dutifully taking notes on things like the Montessori and Reggio Emilia educational approaches and how to ensure that a preschool has enough wooden blocks. I wish I were kidding.
It seems that since the day my daughter, Mika, was born two years ago, it has been one long struggle to figure out her child care. The search officially started when she was 5 months old and I went back to work. I toured a day care center where 10 highchairs were lined up like an assembly, next to 10 ExerSaucers, leaving the impression that no child was actually ever held. The organic food they promised looked more like tater tots and French fries.
When I left, I cried. I just couldn’t imagine leaving my daughter there nine hours a day. With strangers.
Thinking back to that time, it’s remarkable how vulnerable I felt. As a new parent, I had no idea what to look for or what would ultimately end up being important to me. I would now toss the wooden toys and fresh food that I cared about then in favor of truly loving and patient teachers. What I really longed for was something familiar, something that felt like home. Maybe something Jewish.
After that incident, I checked with all the local synagogues to see if they offered infant care. None of them did. The closest they came was a program for 2 year olds, and even that was only a few hours a day.
It seemed that in my 20s, there was a constellation of Jewish organizations whose sole function was to reach people like me — that is, Jews who were not members of a synagogue and weren’t sure if they would be — and let us know that we could be Jewish and cool, too. But their energy and money are misplaced. Sure, I enjoyed Heeb’s boozy parties, but there’s nothing stable about life when you’re 22. It’s a time when you’re trying on new identities and it’s not clear that any one of them will stick.