With three children in our religious, private day school, I barely go a week (and, as egalitarian as my husband and I try to make it, it's inevitably me) without being expected to come in for a holiday party, birthday celebration, or pre-Sabbath fete. That's assuming the school is open, which is doubtful--in addition to closing for all the national, secular holidays that the public schools enjoy, there seems to be, oh, 650 Jewish holidays throughout the year. Of course, you expect to get the High Holidays off. But what is the "Fast of Gedalia"? (Would Gedalia have fasted for me?) Many Jewish schools close for the entire week of Sukkot, and for two full weeks in the spring for what my Bible tells me is the eight-day holiday of Passover. At my daughter's old synagogue-based preschool, they actually canceled an entire day on less than a week's notice because a family needed the room for their son's bris.
And don't forget the early closings on Friday afternoons from September through April, when the Sabbath "comes in early" with the setting sun. Ostensibly, this gives the teachers an opportunity to get home and prepare for the Sabbath. Of course, hundreds of mothers now have to figure out how to keep the kids occupied as they try to prepare for the Sabbath. (Explain this to an administrator, and she'll ask, "Why don't you have the kids help you?" Oh sure--as soon as Maria lines them up and they finish singing "Edelweiss.")
Don't get me wrong. I love my kids' school. It is a warm, nurturing place, and I admire the staff's commitment to involving parents in our children's education. And I really do enjoy coming in to see my little Kayla dressed as Queen Esther, or my son Elie beaming as his classmates give him personalized birthday blessings, or my oldest child Noah solemnly accepting his own Bible at the second grade Chumash party (a ceremony that warranted the dads' attendance as well). This is what raising children is all about. And it is certainly why many of us choose to send our children to a religious school. In Yiddish, it's called naches (rhymes with "Bacchus"), or pride, but to translate it as pride is like translating oy as "alas"--you haven't scratched the surface.
Yet are parents being asked to weigh the naches quotient against the need to work, often full time, in order to be able to afford to send their kids to Jewish day school in the first place?
At least I am fortunate to be able to work from home, part time, with flexible hours. I truly do not know how parents who work a typical 40-plus-hour week downtown, with hour-long commutes, manage it. Wanting to be involved with the children but dreading telling the boss that they have to miss yet another morning or need to take off for another pre-holiday holiday. Some of the slack is picked up by full-time nannies caring for baby siblings at home. But this is not an option for those with "empty nests" from 8:30 until 3:00. Nor can nannies take the place of moms and dads when a child performs in her first Hanukkah play or graduates from kindergarten. Most parents don't want to miss these beautiful, momentous events.
(Even with my flexibility, I mistakenly missed my son's day as Abba shel Shabbat--translated as "Father of the Sabbath," or "Kid-who-has-to-bring-in-candy-for-the-entire-class." Not realizing that a parent is expected to attend this Friday-morning event, I was mortified when Elie's teacher called me that evening to ask if everything was all right. Apparently, Elie and the class were waiting for me, and I never showed up. Somewhere out there is a therapist's appointment book with both our names in it.)
I had expected to return to full-time work at this point in my life, having scaled back (in both hours and professional growth) to spend more time at home during the toddler years. But as the kids get older, the demands don't seem to abate. I've begun training for the after-school-activities relay race and the stand-over-the-kid-to-get-him-to-do-his-homework marathon. Not to mention the appointments with doctors, dentists, optometrists, etc.
So what is the answer? Accept the fact that I won't be getting back to the career path I'd imagined during college and multiple graduate programs? Perhaps, with some regret. Give up on watching my 6-year-old part the Red Sea? Never. I'll be in the front row with the video camera and the joyful tears streaming down my face.
But one request to Jewish day schools: For the sake of the parents, can we do with just a little less naches?