Settling In - Part VI
We Try To Dispose Of Our Kids; Fail
It is an old Russian tradition that preschool-age children attend daycare. It is rumored to help their social skills. Granted, our mothers didn’t have a choice, because they all worked full-time; but in reality, it never entered their heads to keep their children home, even if they could. It just wasn’t done. With that in mind, and considering the fact that Mr. Goldie was in full-time ESL classes and I was going back to school, we started looking around for daycare for our children.
When I first heard how much an average daycare charged, I honestly thought it was a joke. (Same thing happened when I heard that children are not allowed to be at home or outside unsupervised until they are twelve. That was so unreal, I was sure the person was pulling my leg.)
Allow me to sidetrack here and tell you about the one thing that scares us immigrant parents the most in this country. It is not the crime, it is not the drugs, and it is not the child molesters. Can you guess? It is the well-meaning neighbors that are always ready to pick up the phone and call 911, CPS, DHS, et cetera on the poor, unsuspecting immigrant parents that are only doing things the way they had always done them in their home country.
Where I come from, people do not rat.
This is the one thing I will never get used to. Though I will definitely comply with every rule and keep a low profile, because I would much rather have my children living with me than in a foster family, thank you very much.
But enough being serious, back to my story.
There was no way we could afford a regular daycare. We started looking into ones that were more in our price range (as in, free).
Our first choice was Head Start. We stopped by for a visit. We qualified; and we actually liked the place. (That should tell you how easy to please we were.) Don’t remember why we didn’t go through with it; I think the hours didn’t agree with us.
When the Head Start called me at home, I had a revelation. I realized that, contrary to what I’d been thinking all these years, my children’s names could not be Americanized. I just didn’t get it. In school, they taught us that Elijah and Cyril were perfectly legit English names. When the Head Start called me about “your daughter Eliza”, I realized that my information was a tad outdated. And, of course, calling my son “Cereal” was out of the question.
From that day on, in all my children’s records, I’ve been using the names LilProgrammer and ChinchillaBoy. Haha, just kidding. But, really, my children ended up having very rare, ethnic names, which is why I am not using them on my blog.
A few weeks after we tried Head Start, someone told my parents about the Hebrew Academy. It was an Orthodox Jewish institution, from preschool all the way to 12th grade; and, for low-income families like us, it was free. I didn’t really think it was such a good idea, us being Christian and all, but my Dad insisted that we at least stop by for a visit.
We made an appointment with the principal. It was an elderly woman who actually spoke good Russian. My Dad and I were present at the interview.
The principal began by inquiring about my Dad’s family, all the way to his grandparents. She seemed satisfied with his answers, my Dad’s heritage being Jewish through and through.
“What about your mother,” she asked me.
“My mother is half Jewish”, I explained. “She had a Jewish mother and a Polish father.”
“I would very much like to meet her parents”, said the principal in a voice that meant business.
That startled me, as I’d never met my Mom’s parents myself. Her Dad died in 1946 and her Mom, in 1960. Besides, weren’t we there to enroll my son? So, it was the applicant’s great-grandparents that the principal wanted to meet. That struck me as incredibly odd.
“Um, I don’t think that’s possible. They’re dead.”
“They are? What a pity” – and she resumed the conversation.
“Now, tell me about the children’s father. Is he Jewish?”
“I’m sorry, no he isn’t. My husband is Russian. Sorry.”
“Are you sure? What is his last name again? See, it sounds kind of Jewish. Maybe he is Jewish and does not know it. Maybe his parents never told him that he was Jewish, because they were afraid of discrimination.”
I pictured my, very Russian, in-laws and tried my best to keep a straight face.
“Well, thank you for coming”, concluded the principal. “We will make a few inquiries, and then, sometime around Passover, we’ll call you.”
Dad and I walked out into the street. The spring day seemed especially bright and sunny after the dark confines of Hebrew Academy.
“Suddenly I don’t think it’s a good idea”, Dad confessed. “Let’s forget it.”
And so we did.
The Hebrew Academy, by the way, never called us back. I guess they did make their inquiries.