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Monday, February 21, 2011

Fear of Firsts

Our youngest child, Yonah, is in first grade (kitah aleph in the local parlance) and is positively thriving. 

First grade is all about learning... but it is also very much about learning how to learn.  The teachers spend a lot of time showing the kids how to organize their time... how to organize their notebooks and backpacks... how to interact with their peers.

In short, first grade is all about learning the rules.  And Yonah is all about the rules.  So long as he knows exactly what is expected of him, he is fine.  Better than fine; he is smack dab in the middle of his comfort zone.

But when it comes time to do something for the first time - something new - Yonah becomes overwhelmed with fear and self-doubt. 

I'll give you an example:

Yonah and I were at the barbershop waiting to get a hair cut a couple of months ago.  From the chairs where we were waiting we could see the pastry shop next door, so Yonah asked if I would buy him a couple of chocolate 'rugalach'.  I said sure, and handed him some money.

Yonah looked at me in horror.  He'd never gone alone into a store, picked something out and paid for it.  By handing him money and telling him to go next door by himself, I was asking him to do, not one, but three new things (four, if he had to ask someone for help!).

I really wanted him to learn how to do this, so I told him I'd walk him to the door and watch from there.  If he had any questions he could come back and ask me, or I could even direct him from where I was standing.

Nuh uh... nothin' doing.  He Velcro'd himself to my leg and began to cry, pleading softly, "Please abba... please don't make me go in there by myself". 

While I was deciding what to do, one of the owners of the pastry shop noticed us and made a 'what's going on?' gesture with his hand.  I waved him over to where we were standing and explained that, "Yonah really wants a couple of rugalach but isn't sure how to go about buying them... would you mind showing Yonah how it works?".

The owner immediately understood the problem and kneeled down so he could look Yonah in the eye.  He asked, "Do you have money?" 

Yonah looked down at his hand to make sure it was still there and then nodded 'yes'. 

"Do you know where in the store the rugalach are?" 

Yonah glanced over to make sure they hadn't rearranged the place since our last visit, and again nodded 'yes'. 

"Great, then all we have to do is show you how to pick them out and how to pay for them.  Can I show you that?"

Yonah was transformed. Even though I'd shown him a dozen times how to do each of these things, he couldn't make the leap from being with me and going into the store 'by himself'.

Now that he knew all the parameters of the problem, and had a 'shadow' to walk him through the procedure, he let go of me and walked straight into the store with the owner. 

I watched proudly as he picked out his pastry... put them in a bag... carried the bag up to the cash register... handed over his money... and was given back his change.  By the time he came back to me at the door he was grinning from ear to ear.  He even held out his hand to show that he'd gotten the right change.

Since then, any time we're within a few blocks of this pastry shop, Yonah asks me if he can go buy himself something.  Now that he knows the rules, he is perfectly secure and confident in his ability to function within them.

I mention this story because tonight is Yonah's Siddur Party at school.  This is a big deal event where all the first graders are given their first prayer book. 

Where once it may have been a little ceremony where the kid's name was called and they came up to get their book... it has now blossomed into a real production.  There are speeches, recitations, choreography, lines to memorize... in short, a long list of uncharted 'firsts' for Yonah to be terrified about.

I'm not sure what role(s) Yonah will play in the Siddur ceremony this evening.  But when I left for work this morning, he sat at the breakfast table with the hunted look of a cornered animal about him.  Looking in his eyes, I could see that he wasn't so much concerned if tragedy would befall him... but rather when.

As a parent, I wish I could somehow magically transport him to the moment after he had conquered each of these 'firsts' that terrify him so.  But I can't.  I can only watch him run the gauntlet each time... and hope that he emerges relatively unscathed on the other side.

Posted by David Bogner on February 21, 2011 | Permalink


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Mazal Tov on the mesibat siddur!

Posted by: SaraK | Feb 21, 2011 3:30:23 PM

I went from chuckling over the Velcro image to gratitude at the angels that Hashem puts in our children's paths sometimes to vicarious pride about the siddur party to the lump in the throat that comes to every parent who wants growing up to be easy and painless. Pretty good roller coaster in a two-minute read.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Feb 21, 2011 3:43:52 PM

My kids school has made the Chagigat Hasidur and Tekes Chumash even more special - the child's parents can decide who will give the sefer to the child. My youngest daughter got her Chumash from a close family friend who we consider like an aunt at the request of my daughter and while that was nice my oldest daughter got her Siddur from her Great grandmother, again at her request a year before she passed. That is something we will never forget.

Posted by: Aharon | Feb 21, 2011 4:04:46 PM

now that there is one smart vendor!

Posted by: fred | Feb 21, 2011 4:14:56 PM

What a great story! You must be so proud.

It is indeed so hard trying to protect our children and making their growing up easier, and yet knowing that they have to face their challenges themselves if they are to grow. But from the stories you post here, Yonah and his siblings have had a wonderful grounding with their parents and family. I would wager any bet that Yonah will be absolutely fine, even great, tonight at the mesibat siddur. And you and your wife will be swallowing down great big lumps in your throat.

Harbeh nachat to all of you and good luck and mazal tov to Yonah.

Posted by: anneinpt | Feb 21, 2011 4:39:21 PM

Nice article, thanks for the information.

Posted by: sewa mobil | Feb 21, 2011 5:01:56 PM

That is a very sweet story. It is hard to watch our children struggle with things. Sometimes they surprise us with how well they handle things that we expect to be challenging for them.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 21, 2011 6:31:11 PM

mazal tov! surely there must have been rehearsals??
in the future, for situations that make yonah anxious, consider a "social story"
basically, a verbal+visual run through of what is expected, to be reviewed w/the child as often as he/she needs. while this technique developed through the education of children w/autism, it can be very helpful for anyone who needs direct, step-by-step, factual guidance that relates to the social cues of the situation (rather than just, "oh, you'll be fine"). we have used this with great success for situations that repeat infrequently (for example, barber shop or dental visits). for yonah, there will probably be no need for a "miseebat siddur" social story, but there could be a general "class play" social story. (note, you would probably need assistance of the teacher to ensure that the information is accurate). email me if you want more info.

binny just received his chumash in school. cherish these milestones!

Posted by: debbie | Feb 21, 2011 6:41:22 PM

Awwww. Mazal Tov to Yonah on both these great milestones.

(And I've used social stories in my work--could be very useful for Yonah).

Posted by: Baila | Feb 21, 2011 7:14:55 PM

Awwww. Mazal Tov to Yonah on both these great milestones.

(And I've used social stories in my work--could be very useful for Yonah).

Posted by: Baila | Feb 21, 2011 7:14:55 PM

It just goes to show you that all our kids are different. I've got a few who are independent and one that just cries when he has to do something by himself. For that one, I try to be careful how I tell him to do things, knowing it's an extra burden for him. Just gotta love them all.

Posted by: nanaloshen | Feb 21, 2011 7:55:35 PM

I'm going to be thinking about this lovely incident all day. I can just see that delightful baker helping Yonah. What a treasure that man is. I shall pray for Yonah that his special evening will be another good milestone for him.

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Feb 21, 2011 8:04:43 PM

I'm going to be thinking about this lovely incident all day. I can just see that delightful baker helping Yonah. What a treasure that man is. I shall pray for Yonah that his special evening will be another good milestone for him.

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Feb 21, 2011 8:04:44 PM

I really enjoyed that story and the way you wrote it.
I too will join in with all the others saying Mazal Tov !

Its such a gift to get to watch your child get their wings and fly ,be it a short distance to the bakery for "rugalach" or a longer one getting his first siddur .. enjoy them all!


Posted by: Daniela | Feb 21, 2011 9:06:01 PM

Mazal tov to Yonah. Hope everything went fine for him at the Siddur Party. What siddur do they get?

Posted by: Ilana-Davitata | Feb 21, 2011 9:17:01 PM

Just beautiful, David. Thank you, as always, for your stories.

Posted by: christopher | Feb 22, 2011 9:22:04 AM

Awwwwww... what a totally sweet story. Yes, watching them struggle is the hardest thing there is. Mine's about to graduate from college and we still occasionally have moments like these, but life isn't about getting to the point where nothing ever goes wrong or is difficult; it's about learning how to find your way through when it inevitably is those things. Yay Yonah!!

Posted by: bratschegirl | Mar 6, 2011 4:52:21 AM

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