A Mommy and a Teacher

Why waste kids' best hours at school, asks former actress Avishag Rabiner, who has chosen to home-school her twins.

Sometimes, when Avishag Rabiner, 35, is asked about herself, her response relates to her children. At least that was the case during an interview last week, at her home overlooking Hayarkon Park in North Tel Aviv. Rabiner has just published her first children's book, "Yummy Story" (in Hebrew by Am Oved, with illustrations by Liora Grossman).

It happened again when she spoke about seeing flashes of light from the park one night. She thought someone was shooting at her, but the flashes turned out to be from paparazzi cameras. When Rabiner, who was in the TV series "Tironoot" (Basic Training), is asked if the paparazzi disrupt her life, she replies that her children are used to them. And when asked to explain how she reconciles her husband's new religious observance with her own secular lifestyle, she responds, "Daddy thinks one way, Mommy another. It's not difficult for children to understand that."

Perhaps her tendency to answer on behalf of the children stems from the topic of discussion - her decision to home-school her 6-year-old twins. Rabiner, who has modeled and written a novel, says some of her friends told her she should watch "Desperate Housewives," because "it's about me." When she realizes she is being asked how she copes with her husband's "continuing dialogue with religion," as she defines it, she replies, "It's very complicated."

School is allowed

Rabiner's twins, Eyal and Yotam (like the characters in her new book), would be in first grade. After four years of researching her options, and some good and bad experiences with regular educational frameworks, Rabiner decided to keep her sons at home.

"It's only first grade," she explains. "I see people talking about home-schooling when they have a 2-year-old. In Ashdod half the Russian kids are at home with a grandmother until age 6, and they don't call it home-schooling. I accept the fact that at some stage my children will want to go to school, and I will not stop them. I am not inciting against school.

"They have structured activities, enrichment classes, English lessons," says Rabiner, who also has a 2-year-old daughter, Oriana (also a character in Yummy Story). "At first I thought we would learn with workbooks, but then I realized I would have to struggle with them all day long.

"My mother was a teacher for 20 years," continues Rabiner. "She sits with them over math books and teaches them piano. Our television is not plugged in. It's not that they don't watch TV at all - they have two grandmothers who are allowed to watch the Logi children's channel. The also play only educational computer games."

Rabiner believes her twins are learning a lot.

"All the studies I have read (advocating home-schooling) state that in the United States, the best universities court children who were home-schooled," says Rabiner, "because they are more sociable, more successful, more curious and more knowledgeable."

Perhaps this is because their parents knew how to teach them simple fractions?

"Not necessarily," counters Rabiner. "The studies show that these children are usually more educated than their parents because they are curious, so they teach themselves via the Web and other sources."

In any event, Rabiner's children have plenty of time before their university entrance exams. In the meantime, they have only one professional private tutor.

"I didn't want more than that," explains Rabiner, "because employing more than one private tutor can cost up to $30,000 a year, and if I wanted them to have different tutors, then it would be better to send them to school, which at least offers a social advantage."

That social aspect of home schooling is what worries most parents. Rabiner says her problem is doubled, as educators and psychologists recommend separating twins so that they can develop independent identities.

"There are get-togethers with other home-schooled children in the Dan region," says Rabiner. "Once a week the families arrange a group visit to a museum, for example. Sometimes we join them."

The field trip portrayed in Rabiner's book, which includes harvesting mushrooms, and sounds like a real experience, occurred only in her imagination. The children in the book are on their own. Rabiner's children have friends in the neighborhood, play basketball near their home and meet peers at enrichment classes. One remaining disadvantage of home schooling is that "it is better for Mom not to be around."

Better for Mom, too

"I do not feel I have less time than when they attended a preschool I didn't like," says Rabiner, "and they would come home exhausted. It is easier to be relaxed with them all day long than to pick them up at the end of the day, when they are full of experiences without you and you need to wind them down quickly, give them a bath and feed them supper. There is something illogical about the school schedule. Why morning? Those are the children's best hours."

Perhaps that, coupled with their parents' work schedules, is precisely the reason to send them to school during those hours.

"Yes, that's true. I did write my novel when I was on bed rest during my pregnancy with the twins, and the children's book when they were at a private preschool."

Rabiner's mother shares the schooling with her.

"Once a week, one of the twins sleeps at her house. If she had said it was a crazy idea, I would not have done it."

What if the children's father had thought it was a crazy idea?

"He doesn't think so. This is also his choice and his responsibility. Since we switched to home-schooling, we are more of a family. He is with the children more."

From the outside, home-schooling appears to strengthen the patriarchal structure of the husband working to support the family and the mother staying home with the children. In the case of Rabiner and her husband, Guy, the situation is more complex, as Guy has become religious.

"I thought about the fact that I am relaying a negative message to my daughter," says Rabiner, "because until I had children I had a job, but then I quit. The fact that I am doing something constructive, that my books are being published, shows that I am working. On the other hand, half the mothers around here drop their children off at preschool and say, 'Mommy's going to work,' and they actually go to the gym or out for coffee.

"If I worked in high-tech and earned NIS 40,000 a month, I'm not sure I would choose home schooling," admits Rabiner. "The work I do makes this possible (writing a new novel, and a column for the Pnai Plus leisure magazine). Sometimes I get up at 5 A.M., and sometimes I go to sleep at 3 A.M."

In addition to her modeling and TV roles, Rabiner also worked as a presenter on morning talk shows. She says she will not go back to acting.

"There is so much competition," says Rabiner. "Anyone who wants to be there has to be totally committed. I got there by accident. I didn't study acting. I studied theater at Tel Aviv University. I don't want to be involved in soap operas - not to act in them, write them or watch them. I do not feel acting is part of my identity."

She does admit, however, that her identity as an actor definitely helped her publish her first book.

"It has its advantages and disadvantages," explains Rabiner, referring to people who did not take her book seriously. Sometimes it is her own fault. The cover of her book "Alma and Martha," for example, features a photo of her derriere.

"Keter (the publisher - R.K.) did not think it was a good idea, but it was my decision," she says.