Parent Moments: Two to One
When I think of Hebrew school, my head conjures up images of a decrepit old building whose crazy air conditioner kept everything at a polar 30 degrees, no matter what the temperature outside. The memory seems ages old, but when I recently brought my 8-year-old son for his first day, I saw that my alma mater hadn't changed a bit. Even the teacher, Miss Epstein, was the same. She must have been 147 years old when she taught me, but I was amazed to see that it didn't look as if she'd aged a day.
Hebrew school was forced on me, as it is for my son and daughter, who are learning about our Jewish faith, tradition, and language so that they can be bar/bat mitzvah'd. Although as a kid I found the experience to be a long, arduous, and often painful process, it ultimately proved very rewarding.
On Jack's first day of Hebrew school, I was running late and had to race him from regular school to the temple. After walking him to class, I bowed to Miss Epstein and skedaddled out, happier to be away from her glare than if I'd just found the hidden matzo at Passover Seder for the first time.
Little did I know that my glee was to be Jack's nightmare. I should have warned him of Miss Epstein, a zealot Jew with no patience for anything but Mahjong and a perfectly cooked brisket. She terrified him within 30 seconds, laying down the law and making an example of him for being late -- although it had been my fault -- by taking away five minutes of recess time and forcing him to a seat at the head of the class.
Not 10 minutes later, Jack had to pee.
My son has never been one to wet his bed and doesn't react well to embarrassment, which is kind of problematic in my family, where embarrassment is seen as a rite of passage, a obligatory practice that makes us funnier, more humble, and perhaps more easy-going. I myself once had a "spilling" problem that I have never been able to live down.
Perhaps Jack feared Miss Epstein's wrath or was too cold to move in that frozen tundra of a school room, but he never asked to go to the bathroom. This silence proved unwise. It also proved to be very wet. In fact, it was so wet that when I picked him up I thought the class must have gone on an impromptu fly-fishing trip down the Colorado River, because his corduroys were soaked from ankle to waist, with only a few dry blotches on one knee. I couldn't help but grin with empathy -- and of course, being the evil father that I am, I picked on him the whole way home.
From what I could gather, he sat in a hot, steamy lake of pee for the entire two hours. He didn't get up for the break, and not even for the free brownies. I guess he realized trying to clean himself up would be a fruitless cause.
Miss Epstein must have been day-dreaming about her long-overdue retirement because she didn't notice as Jack's puddle seeped over the sides of the chair, drizzling into golden puddles on the laminate floor. I don't see how she missed this, because the smell alone made the kids panic and move their desks away as if an anvil was about to drop from the sky. Poor Jack must have cringed as the faces around him pointed and sniggered as a slate of yellow ice formed beneath him.
Compounding his agony was the fact that the adorable Carley was there. She goes to Jack's elementary school, and he's had a crush on her since the first grade.
Needless to say, it was a bad day. After we cleaned him up at home, my wife and I tried everything to cheer him up. We made his favorite dinner, let him play with his favorite toys, stay up late watching television -- anything to make him smile. For a second I even thought about going to the grocery store and peeing my own pants in solidarity, but I quickly came to grips.
The next day I woke Jack up wearing a zany stick-on mustache and told him he could disguise himself with it for the day, but he stayed strong and went to school with his head held high.
If you can believe it, Carley met him outside before classes started and comforted him, telling him not to worry, it was no big deal, it happens, etc. Jack was ecstatic -- until he realized that all his friends were standing behind him (more than likely making undignified faces). A few more days of razzing followed, but fortunately for Jack there was a pooping incident later in the week and his episode was quickly forgotten.
It's not often that a number two trumps a number one. Sometimes in life, in parenting as well as childhood, things have a way of working themselves out. Until that time comes, there's not much you can do but watch, laugh, and be positive, because poop happens.