Diary of a Day-School Mom: At home, kids still need a separation — havdalah — between school and not
I still don’t know why my 12-year-old son thinks gladiators are not heroes, which was the subject of a short essay he wrote on Monday, Day One of distance learning.
I don’t know because he will not tell me.
This is a child who can stand next to me while I’m cooking and talk forever about any one of the following subjects: latest Lego creation, snakes, plots of whatever sci-fi/fantasy series he’s reading or rereading now. Gladiators might not get that kind of love, but under normal circumstances, they’d be sterling conversational fodder. Plus, I’m a professional asker of questions. But Avi, who is in sixth grade at the Hannah Senesh Community Day School in Brooklyn will not be interviewed.
Distance-learning is not sitting well with him. He’s very meh, very draggy. I think I have diagnosed the problem, which is that stuck at home, learning online, it feels like everything is blurring into the next thing. The question is how can I fix this, when it’s kind of the nature of the beast.
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It is — but I can make it better. The solution: Separation.
It all goes back to Shabbat. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “palace in time” helps us make a break with the everyday. We burst out of the defensive crouch in which we spend most of our lives and return to the world restored. But only after completing a ritual — with wine, spice and candlelight — that’s literally called “separation;” in Hebrew, havdalah.
It is because I have had this experience of Shabbat and havdalah that as soon as I sat down on the couch this morning with my slouchy, sullen son, I realized that what he needs was a ritual to end school and start the Rest of the Day. Like a snack. Except maybe not actually a snack, since he is spending “school” surrounded by Cliff Bar and string-cheese wrappers.
Today, I told him, as soon as the virtual bell rings, he could do something different, something physical, something fun. Unsurprisingly, given his general state of mind, he did not embrace this suggestion. Too bad it wasn’t a suggestion! By 3:30 p.m., Avi and his TK-year-old sister, and my husband were pedaling away from our house, heading for frozen yogurt. So O.K., yes, a snack, but he had to move his body to get there. And now he’s playing basketball at the neighborhood park.
Tomorrow: a dance party. He’s not open to that suggestion. It’s not a suggestion!