January 7, 2007

Mental Health Days

I was just going through some old journal entries and I found this. It was written just after we made aliyah and well before we started this blog. Reading back on this, I can see how much has changed for my children in the past year They are well adjusted socially, confident, happy and now call Israel home. The Hebrew language, however, is still an issue.

My cell phone rings. It’s my 12-year-old son. “Mom, I’m feeling sick. It’s a virus. I just threw up.”

There is silence as I figure out how to respond.

I decide to pull a hard line approach.

“It’s probably nerves. I know you can pull through this. You’re strong. Call me later.”

The phone rings an hour later.

“I just threw up again. This time it’s real. I need to come home and I’m sure it’s a 24-hour thing. I can go back to school tomorrow.”

We play this dance for an hour longer until the school calls me and insists I come and pick up my child right away.

I sheepishly turn up at the school to pick up my son, looking like a mean, uncaring parent. He walks out of the school guiltily but there is a spring to his feet. He has been saved. Once home, he runs up to his room and flops on his bed, finds a book and dives in. He is home. He is secure. The floppy pillow is familiar, the buzzing of the air conditioner is soothing. He falls asleep.

This is the first of many episodes. I am quite sure of this. And, watching him curled up in his bed, I know now that I have to permit it, hard line or not.

We have just moved to Israel and my son, who, with his eight years of Hebrew Day School education, does not understand a word. He is in a new house, living in a new and very foreign country. He has to go to a new school and make new friends. And to make things even more stressful, he was to dorm at school tonight for the first time.

He truly feels relieved; saved from being teased and jeered at; saved from feeling inadequate, stupid; and from being the one who doesn’t understand a thing. He is saved from having to eat dinner with a group of boys he doesn’t really know, most whom first met way back playing tag at gan. And, finally, saved from having to share a room with five strangers.

He is trying his best and has been marching off to school at 6:20 every morning for two weeks, sitting through class after class of incomprehensible jabbering, then returning home at 6:30 p.m., his books full of doodles showing cartoon giants torturing their captives. (Is he feeling that abused?) We are told that he will catch on in a few months and that we should be patient. So he doodles, and we wait.

Next day, I get a call from the school office at Noam. This time it’s my 10-year-old daughter. “Mom, I have a headache and I can’t concentrate. I have to come home.”

She caught on to this game quickly. And so did we. She was home within the hour, sprawled across the couch playing Game Boy. Safety. At least Game Boy is something she understands well. She later told me with great authority that she needs a break, a kind of mental health day. And she estimates that she will be due for one about once a month. I should write down the exact date in case she calls me sooner than she’s due.

Yet today, she happily left for school, not a care in the world.

I imagine the stress of sitting all day and not comprehending a thing takes its toll. I know it would on me. And as the school year progresses, and the home work does not get done, they will surely feel as if they are failing.

I now know that just to get up and go to school each morning is worth an A+. That’s the hard part. The rest will, with time, fall into place.

The house finally empty, I look at my dirty breakfast dishes. I spy my six-year-old son’s pencil case lying on the counter and my heart breaks. Although he does not have the hardship of higher level learning, he will be lost without his crayons and pencils. I can just see him sitting at his desk, lost amidst the chatter of kita aleph, unable to color in the boxes, or write the aleph, beit. He doesn’t know how to ask for help and he cannot conceive of a mental health day – he doesn’t yet know how to call home.

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