This was definitely the case with the sidelong glances, stand-offish attitudes, and palpable distrust we sensed from other parents during the years my daughters attended a local charter school.
We were baffled at the time. We just couldn’t put our finger on why our kids got the kid glove treatment.
It was subtle, but undeniable. Certain parents wouldn’t allow their daughters to sleep over at our house. Our girls were consistently excluded from group playdates organized by certain moms.
One mom, who volunteered daily in the school office, would shoot exaggerated eye daggers my way every time she saw me. She did nothing to disguise her hatred of our entire family, including my then one-year-old son. Once, when I waved to her at the mall, she fled into a store.
I’m pretty thick skinned and don’t suffer from a need to be super popular. Where my kids are concerned, though, I have an Achilles heel. Go ahead and hate on me. But my kids? Oh no … do not go there!
Since we hardly knew these people, I had to wonder if it might be the fact that our family is Jewish. We are no strangers to this sort of discrimination, a casual mistrust born of ignorance. There are not a lot of Jewish families in our neighborhood, which is probably what prompted one of my neighbors to ask if we had a vial of blood in the mezuzah on our front door…
I won’t tell you what I wanted to answer. You can guess.
Note: The mezuzah actually contains a blessing/prayer written on parchment.
Many of our neighbors belong to an evangelical church where their children are taught that my our (Jewish) family’s souls are at great risk. This means that every so often, we get helpful tips from playmates along the lines of, “Guess what?! You’re going to HELL!”
On one hand, it’s a twisted kind of sweet. Awww … the neighborhood kids don’t want my kids to burn in hell! On the other hand, we don’t believe in hell. Trust me, the conversation usually doesn’t go anywhere good after the topic of hell has been raised. Not with the kids, or the parents. It gets overheated fast.
This sort of frequent awkwardness in our local public school was a big part of why we sought shelter at a charter. We’d hoped our kids would experience a little more ethnic and religious diversity. We looked forward to an alternative educational opportunity.
Little did we know our family was about to be branded as a little too “alternative.”
The other reason we sought out the charter school, a Waldorf-inspired one, was that my oldest daughter was struggling with the educational approach of the local elementary school. She has dyslexia. We knew a hands-on approach to education would be a much better fit.
My daughter’s dyslexia has always been a bit frustrating. But sometimes, it is funny, too. She’s well known for mixing up phrases. The Empire State Building becomes confused with the Eiffel Tower and results in quotable quotes like, “I really can’t wait to go to the Eiffel State Building!”
We know she KNOWS the right words. The wrong ones just pop out. Usually with comical effect.
When my daughter started at the charter school, she was still feeling defensive about our family being “different.” She was sick and tired of being branded a sinner and told she was going to hell. She simply didn’t want to talk about it anymore. She had a lightbulb moment.
She decided life would be simpler if she could just tell everyone that she didn’t believe in God. She would take religion off the table altogether. To an 11-year-old, it seemed like a great way to get the proselytizers off her back.
Except she had the term for atheist wrong. Way wrong.
The phrase that popped out of her mouth as she was explaining her family’s actual religious beliefs to all of her classmates was … “Satanist.”
Oops. And oy vey.
Talk about hopping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
At almost 17, she’s only just now copped to this mix-up and realized the implications. She ran into some old friends recently who asked if our family were still Satanists.
Years later, I have to laugh about it. It really wasn’t my imagination that those parents were giving me the woogie eye. It also wasn’t the same old Jewish thing, which I’d always kind of feared/dreaded was the case. Nope. It was the devil that made them do it.
Dyslexia may be a gift that carries vision, creativity, and sensitivity. But in this particular case? Dyslexia turned my family into a bunch of devil worshippers.
Dyslexia really is the devil!