June is the cruelest month for busy Israeli parents of elementary school-aged kids, who also try to make a living and run a household when they aren’t driving carpool. In the final weeks of classes, we find ourselves like marathon runners struggling to make it through those last few kilometers, sweating and panting to the finish line that marks the beginning of summer vacation.
This is not an original thought. A highly amusing blog post on the topic recently made its way around the Momosphere (that’s the Mom blogosphere,) was linked virally on social media, and filtered up to mainstream media. The piece was written by Jen Hatmaker, an American mother of five, who shared her year-end burnout with the world, dubbing herself the Worst End of School Year Mom Ever:
“We are limping, limping across the finish line, folks. I tapped out somewhere in April and at this point, it is a miracle my kids are still even going to school. I haven’t checked homework folders in three weeks, because, well, I just can’t. Cannot. Can. Not. I can’t look at the homework in the folder. Is there homework in the folder? I don’t even know. Are other moms still looking in the homework folder? I don’t even care....The emails coming in for All Of The Things – class gift, end of year letters, luncheon signup, party supplies, awards ceremonies, pictures for the slide shows, final projects – are like a tsunami of doom. They are endless. I mean, they will never ever end. There is no end of it. I will never finish and turn it all in and get it to the (correct) Room Mom and get it all emailed and I am pretty sure the final week of school will never be over.”
That post was written on May 30 - when many U.S. parents like Ms. Hatmaker could already see the beginning of the end. By this time, she and the most of her American counterparts are already coping with the fresh new challenges of kids on summer break.
Meanwhile, over here in Israel, we Moms (and those inspiring Dads who actually pay attention to these things) can’t afford to be tapped out by April. In late June, we are still hobbling along the race course towards the finish: actually, at this point, it’s more like we’re crawling on our hands and knees.
July 1 is when we all finally - FINALLY - cross the line, thanks to the uber-bureaucrats at the Israeli Ministry of Education. Their intentions are good - it’s designed this way so that working parents at least have that long to put in some work hours as the long days of vacation lie ahead in July and August - those long days to fill that are going to make us regret we ever prayed they would come.
I might be actually dreading the upcoming summer child-care crisis if wasn’t spending so much of the month of June running out to the store every day to buy supplies for another end-of-year party or attending countless ceremonies. You’d think the Jewish calendar would provide us with enough reasons to feast and celebrate, but no, it seems that in Israel you haven’t really finished third grade without a three-hour Broadway-level musical event and a full buffet to mark the occasion. Or fourth grade, or fifth ... and let’s not even get started on elementary school graduation. And woe be the parent who has a previous engagement on ceremony evening. I have one friend who dared to miss her son’s graduation because she had already purchased a ticket to the Barbra Streisand concert. I salute her bravery and willingness to withstand guilt-inducing social pressure from fellow parents.
At first, of course, it all seems just lovely. One young still-un-jaded friend posted a misty-eyed status on Facebook after her daughter’s end-of-year-ceremony in pre-kindergarten: “Having a ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ moment.”
When I saw it, I scoffed: “Yeah, we’ll see how she feels after sitting through the same ceremony with the same songs for the ninth time.”
And for every ceremony, there are five parties: an endless parade of parties for various classes in school after-school activities, plus all the birthday parties for kids with summer birthdays that are jammed into the second half of June before everyone goes away on vacation.
There is one aspect of Jen Hatmaker’s rant I couldn’t relate to, and that was her groaning over required parental participation in final academic endeavors. Academics? Even though Israeli kids keep going to school till the end of the month, it doesn’t mean they are actually learning anything. If we’re lucky, the teachers reinforce what they’ve already studied – but mostly, it’s all about ceremonies and parties. For the last three days of school, they told her not to even bother bringing her books. What she did have to bring? Junk food.
Somehow, despite the supposed new wave of health-consciousness and institutionalized concerns over childhood obesity, it still isn’t a real celebration in these parts without large quantities of salt, sugar, or fat-laden fare. I find myself purchasing items I try never to bring into my house. What can I do? Every day, a different printed slip comes home in my daughter’s backpack: “Go out and buy chemical-laden corn crunchies! That’s an order!”
At least I’m not alone. My friend Ruth’s report from the front lines: “They had costume day in the kindergarten today but of course the Purim costumes no longer fit or are "too itchy." The older one told me yesterday at 3PM that he needed a chocolate cake for today's final party for the school choir (oh, it has to be parve (non-dairy) and "preferably gluten-free.") A year's worth of all three kids' library books seem to disappeared. And I forgot to get the teachers gifts, and now the line in (cosmetics store) Laline is out the door. How many more days?”
There is only one thing that gets me through the exhausting hoopla. What keeps my whining to a minimum is seeing the frenzy through the eyes of my empty-nest friends, whose kids are grown and have moved on.
Older and wiser, I believe them when they tell me that someday I will look back fondly at the photos I’ve taken with my cellphone at the ceremonies that would never end and treasure the days when I was such an integral part of their lives. Someday, I’m told, when these high-maintenance creatures have moved up and out of my house, I’ll be wishing they were around, still needing me to bake cupcakes at the last minute or run to the supermarket for yet another bag of potato chips. Sunrise, sunset.