Today, I took a half day to watch my daughter perform in the winter concert at her school and then have a talk with my wife, my daughter’s teacher, the school’s principal, and the family liaison. My daughter loves singing, and she was excited to sing for us, especially because her Saba was in town visiting. I loved seeing her on the stage with a wide range of other kids, and I loved seeing the movement incorporated into the performance. What was not so great was the heavy dose of Christmas capped off by a Santa dancing his way to the stage and “Ho Ho Hoing” to the kids’ singing. That is all that my daughter talked about afterwards.
The talk that followed was predictable given the Santa and the “Giving Tree” in the front lobby of the school. We framed the meeting with appreciations for them giving us time on this busy day and for all of the positives that we are seeing from our daughter this year. The teacher seemed very defensive initially only looking at the principal and the family liaison with only furtive glances at us. The principal did a fine job of facilitating the meeting, and the family liaison seemed to genuinely listen. It was clear, though, that they were all proud of the job the school was doing with multiculturalism. In the classroom, the teacher informed us that they spent two weeks on Chanukah with lots of books. The liaison chimed in that her son had come home talking about the holiday and playing the dreidel game. Moving past that, we started to broach the specifics of the Christmas items that had come home to ask about the specifics of how they were introduced in the class. Again, there was push back right away. The reading center story about a dog who thought he was part of Santa’s reindeer team sounds delightful, but it was encountered in a reading center with no adult intervention. Similarly, students were welcome to make their list of presents wanted for their birthday. All that was needed was to cut off the top of the paper that proclaimed it to be Santa’s list. The teacher reiterated that children have choice in these centers and don’t have to do the Christmas related options. Her example of setting out some stamps and that children didn’t have to use the Santa stamp though there were not other symbols from other religions made me fume inside. This opened up one of the big topics: the unguided, institutional presentation of Christmas symbols. Their immediate response, and one that I often get, is that Santa, Christmas trees, reindeer, and the like are not religious symbols. To this I reply that for someone not in the Christian religion, they are definitely symbols. I think I said it more politely than that, and this is the point that I think one of the three seemed to think about. I mentioned that upon entering the school everyone is confronted by a pine tree decorated by hats and gloves and named a giving tree. To Christians, this may not seem like a Christmas tree, but to others it is a thinly disguised one. Again, I was more politic in the delivery. That idea did not seem to make much of a dent, so I didn’t even go into the size of it compared to the smaller religious displays to the side and how an institution features the symbols that it promotes. The American flag in front of the school is a symbol that everyone attending a public school in America at least has to acknowledge. The Christmas tree in the lobby, however, puts the weight of the school behind one religion and forces anyone who does not subscribe to it to face identity issues upon entering what should be a safe learning space. The icing on that cake, of course, was the Santa dancing down the aisle and joining the kids at the end of the concert, and we didn’t even get to that in our conversation.
At this point, this blog entry is not as coherent as I had planned all day, but I am still churning the ideas around in my head. My greatest hope is that this begins a slow, positive change toward true anti-bias work and celebration of diversity. My fear is that we are now tagged as the trouble family and that the teacher will be guarded toward or treat our daughter differently from other students to protect herself from us. The conversation results were not surprising but were disappointing at the same time.
We had a small party to celebrate my son’s birthday, and making the guest list was reminiscent of a wedding invite. We really wanted something manageable with all of the visits and holiday stuff that has happened recently. Mostly, we wanted there to be kids that my son liked playing with because, at three, this party is more meaningful to him than the two previous ones. Certainly at one, we invited our friends and celebrated keeping this little human alive for a year.
Though it still felt like a lot of people, we had a small gathering that was completely the right size for my son and for everyone else, too.
For the last few weeks, my daughter has come home from school with Christmas worksheets, coloring activities, songs on her lips, and lists of presents she wants. Given that we are not a Christian household, this is a little disturbing. I relish the fact that she goes to a diverse school and will be exposed to many different celebrations and cultures; I just didn’t expect it to be so embedded in the curriculum and so forcefully Christian. My wife and I finally had enough when a hand colored card came in the door with Happy Christmas written in my daughter’s best phonetic spelling and an explanation of the arrival of a candy cane at Christmas to eat. As an aside, there has been a fair amount of candy, cookies, and other foods that I was a little taken aback about, but that is a topic for another day.
My wife went in to talk to the teacher on Thursday morning, a time the teacher suggested, and got a defensive response. We first wanted to understand what was going on because all we see of it is what ends up in our daughter’s folder and what she tells us. The perspective of a five year-old is not the most robust understanding of what is going on. We wanted to be sure that there was some balance between cultures represented in the curriculum, and we also were concerned about the amount of time spent on Christmas. Not only that, we did not particularly like the worksheet nature of the material coming home. Results that we hoped for were the opportunity to sit down and have a longer conversation to understand what was going on. Some shift in the amount of Christmas stuff would have been nice. On the other side, we did not want to sour the relationship between our daughter and her teacher, and we did not want our daughter to be given different tasks because she is different. Already the latter has happened. The worksheet that came home on Thursday was a sheet of paper with a list of presents our daughter wants. The header of the page has been cut off, and our daughter reported that the Santa’s List part was cut off to make this a birthday gift wish list.
Bleh. Having taught in schools that were neutral to schools that were really good at cultural diversity and anti-bias work, this is a hart pill to swallow.
My son is three today. It is a momentous day for him. He gets to take a vitamin, move to the big potty (toilet), stop using pacifiers, and get to open his own present. Since he borrowed some matchbox cars from school without asking, we figured it was time to get him some for home use. He was overjoyed with the set which includes a four door hatchback like the ones we drive around. I remember car sets containing somewhat normal cars, but when I was at the store looking, they were all race cars of military vehicles. This was the closest to normal cars I could find, and that included a monster truck and a jet fuel tanker. Go figure. To my son it didn’t matter. These were cars. My daughter asked repeatedly to play with them as he was just enjoying the moment, but sure enough, he offered them to her after a short while.
Our Thanksgiving celebrations eclipsed the second night of Chanukah, but it is back in full force on the third night. With the arrival of the kids’ Saba and his friend, the kids got a game and a wood construction set to play with as I finished up making dinner and cleaning dishes. The kids are having a great time. I think we can wait to give them anything else because their excitement does not need to go any higher. Right now all four are playing every musical instrument in the playroom.
Thursday was the much talked about intersection of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, and we ate ourselves silly. Chanukah started on Wednesday night, and we put a bunch of small presents in a bag. The kids took turns pulling them out as everything in the bag was to be shared. Among the smaller things, there was a set of office furniture for the dollhouse that to this point only had bathroom and bedroom furniture. Later they will also get some kitchen furniture for the dolls to have a more rounded life. I am sure the dolls will appreciate not just taking showers and going to bed all of the time.
Chanukah started early in our house with our nanny who made latkes, applesauce, and matzoh ball soup. She also gave the kids some presents which included hair clips and an art project for my daughter and underpants for my son. Both kids were excited and happy with these gifts, and this truly begins the launch of potty training for my son.