Margaret and Hannah invented an imaginary game this summer called “preschool boarding school” — a fusion of all the things they know, educationally. (I thought about patenting the concept and actually launching one. What parent of a three year old hasn’t considered sending her away?). The game featured six students (including Hannah), one teacher (Margaret, aka “Miss Becky”) and me as the director. Like all my kids’ games, this one involved elaborate rules and rituals and proved highly frustrating to most adult participants. But I always enjoyed it. For one, it gave me a chance to tell Margaret: “I’m not your mother, I’m your boss. Do you want to brush your teeth, or lose your job?” And to give Hannah positive feedback in comparison to her more rowdy, imaginary classmates.
When our preschool boarding school took a “field trip” to Israel, I thought perhaps the game would die a natural death. And indeed, Hannah seems to have lost interest. But Margaret is still an avowed fan. “I’m not Margaret, I’m Miss Becky!” she will say, strutting around the apartment, bossing around her imaginary friends and stuffed animals and putting them in time out. (As a director, I hire the best teachers, regardless of youth or stature).
As Miss Becky, Margaret knows what’s up and has control over her world and all the people in it. No wonder that she wants to live this fantasy as much as possible. The real world around her is full of unfamiliar letters, sounds and smells; long walks for little legs; parents who get lost and confused with startling frequency; and blinding sunshine bouncing off all the Jerusalem stone. (She is not even aware of the confusion on the geopolitical stage).
Margaret’s quest is the most overt, but the rest of us have been trying to find our sense of mastery and power also. Terence studies the iPhone to know exactly where he is at all times. Anne investigates the prettiest, shadiest, flattest ways to get from A to B all over the city. Hannah and I are trying to build up “the way we do things” in Jerusalem. Do things the same way two or three times in a row and a tradition is born. So we go to the Israel Museum and look at exactly the same set of kids’ art exhibits (the Shrine of the Book will have to wait). We count the dogs in the park on our walk to school in the morning. We eat Shabbat dinner outside as the dazzling sun sets and our neighborhood retreats into its day of rest.