Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Preschool Hanukkah Lesson

To celebrate the 2012 holiday season, we are moving into a new house, balancing a four-month-old and a four-year-old, emerging from a scary bout of croup, participating in a co-op art show, and planning three (3) major December trips, one of them outside the country. 

Accordingly, Five Kids Is a Lot of Kids's "When Good Enough Turns Out to be Good AND Enough" has hit me right in the necessaries. This concept deserves lapel pins, colored ribbons, and an Awareness Day.

My Good Enough this month: preschool Hanukkah. As the parent of the only Jewish kid in the class, I was approached for a Hanukkah Day contribution. I tried not to look too deer-in-the-headlights as the teacher enthused over past years' activities.  In one banner year, apparently, a Mama appeared with a frying pan and cooked latkes right there for all the kids. The word "latkes" was, in fact, tossed around several times during the discussion.

Now, although I am committed to raising Jewish children, I have never in my life made a latke. And I didn't think that my first time should involve 15 preschoolers and a vat of hot oil. So I cheerfully agreed to do something, then went home and cast about for an alternate activity.

Idea #1: maybe we could make sufganiot! (Wait, that falls into the "preschoolers and hot oil" category.)

Idea #2: ok, what about baked donuts? (Oh. "Preschoolers and hot oven" is not really better.)

Idea #3: let's make little oil lamps! (Right, yes, mixing preschoolers, hot oil, and fire.)

The class is already doing marshmallow menorahs. Hunh. Those clever teachers snapped up the easy one.

More Googling ensues, landing me eventually at the story of Yehudit, which is suspiciously similar to the story of Ya'el, but who cares because it does not involve hot oil. Instead . . . cheese!

Down the cheesemaking rabbithole we go, desperately searching for a no-cook recipe. This, as those in the know will know, is a good challenge. But I found one, and the next day buttonholed the teacher with a full report:

Me: " . . . and we'll have to edit the story of Yehudit some, because in the real story she cuts off the general's head and we don't want it to be gory so instead we can just say he fell asleep and . . ."

Teacher: [cautiously] "Well, you know, it should be simple, or else they lose interest . . ."

Me:  [frenzied babbling] ". . . so that's the tie-in to the cheese, and then it's a combined snack and a craft, well, we might not be able to really make cheese, but that's okay, because it should be quick and not too much mess, and we can use the sink right? but we won't have to cook anything . . ."

Teacher: [edging slightly away] "Maybe you could just bring some cheese?"

Me: "and I could bring cheesecloth so they'd each have their own little . . . wait . . . did you say just bring cheese?"

Teacher: [clearly used to dealing with irrational four-year-olds] "And maybe a book?"

Me: ". . . a book? To read? Just a book?"

Teacher: [gently] "We even have Hanukkah books, if you don't want to bring one."

Me: "Bring cheese? And a book? And that's it?"

Teacher: "Well, if you have some of that flat bread, they might like that, too."

Me: "Matzoh? Sure, yes, um, I can bring cheese and matzoh."

Teacher: [probably greatly regretting the whole conversation and greatly relieved to be shut of this crazy-eyed Mama] "That would be great, just great, and you could maybe read a story to them during snack time. They would love that."

So I was off the hook, right? No fancy combined-craft-and-snack activity required. No best-ever Hanukkah doings expected. No adaptations of gory Bible stories. No homegrown cheese recipes.

You would think I could be content with that and move along. But even so, I didn't feel it was enough. It seemed totally inadequate for the Hanukkah Day activity provided by the Mama of the Only Jewish Kid In The Class. So inadequate, in fact, that I even crazily attempted to crap out at the last minute:

Me: "He'en, how would you feel if I just sent the snack tomorrow?"

He'en: "But? But you are com-een, wight?"

Me: "Well, I thought maybe I would not come to class. But you would have your snack."

He'en: [tears begin to flow] "But! But you are com-een to cass, wight?"

And that's where I realized, Duh!

DUH, Mama!

It's not about the Hanukkah craft or activity or latkes or anything else.  Duh! It's just about com-een to cass. Little He'en just wants to show off her Mama to the class and provide a snack. Of any kind. Duh!!!  I don't know how I missed that. It's just been such a month, I guess. But DUH.

So the Good Enough Preschool Hanukkah, in the end, included:

NOT a cleverly adapted Yehudit story. Just me, ol' boring Mama, reading aloud a whopping two pages about Hanukkah from A Mouse in the Rabbi's Study.

NOT matzoh. Couldn't find it this time of year. Instead, crackers from Walmart.

NOT Hanukkah gelt. Walgreens was sold out. Instead, stocking-stuffer chocolate coins.

NOT re-enacted handmade biblical artisan cheese. Instead, oh, I can't even type it:

That. I did that. To 15 unsuspecting preschoolers. For Hanukkah. If Judaism had hell, I would be going there.

But you know what? It didn't matter. The kids happily listened to their excerpt. They cheerfully ate their crackers. They delightedly savored their "gelt."

And afterward, my child -- the Only Jewish Kid in the Class -- was beaming with pride and delight.

It was enough.

And it was good.

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