Back when my oldest daughter was preparing to skip third grade, the head of school assured me the challenges ahead would prepare my daughter for solid, life-coping skills.
Everyone had read The Blessings of the Skinned Knee, Wendy Mogel’s popular book on using Jewish teachings to raise self-reliant children. The administrator said the sooner my daughter skins her knees, the better. She was breezing through second grade. She towered over most of her classmates and had a sophisticated vocabulary. It was time for fourth grade and the school of hard knocks.
This past weekend, as we celebrated her Bat Mitzvah, I could see how she did indeed benefit from moving ahead. She is not as reserved as she once was and has a pack of wonderful friends. Let’s face it, the social piece is huge when considering the success of the primary school experience. An anxious personality, she also is more resilient than in her early years.
I have to admit I’m not big on skinned knees and I believe my soccer-playing, energetic daughters have had their fair share of these wonderfully beneficial blessings: The blessing of the skinned knee, the blessing of the broken arms, broken wrists, sprained ankles, crushed fingers, Swine Flu; even the rare blessing of the plastic bead lodged in the ear that had to be surgically removed. And to think, some of these blessings happened at our beloved temple!
Yet, as an overprotective mother at heart, I see the good in letting children experience pain and recover. We do learn most from the pain. I can’t recall the times I got answers right, but I have vivid memories of getting it wrong in front of my community or classroom of peers, and how I wished I had the brilliant answer on my lips and could impress the world with my genius at any given time.
We want to be viewed as flawless brainiacs, and there is pressure on our children to perform at that level, as well. Don’t we want them to get it right at every turn? They must score the goals, score the report cards, score the dates, score the college entrance exams, score the nice house, score the best job. Wasn’t that the whole point of learning from those blessings?
Still, as my daughter took to studying her torah portion, Noah and the flood, I learned as well. We were made in God’s image and we were made a flawed people, not a people who never get it wrong, but a people who often get it wrong yet persevere despite the odds.
Perhaps Mogel’s follow up book should relate to this Jewish teaching, stemming from Pablo Cassals quote: The main thing in life is not to be afraid to be human. That’s the lesson I want my children to take away from their school years.