Reflections for a New Year, at School and Home

Back to SchoolAs summer draws to a close and our kids start going back to school, we enter a season of reflection and renewal. Labor Day is behind us, and at curriculum nights and school open houses across the country, teachers are giving us parents a glimpse of the amazing things our children will learn this year and a preview of the ways they’ll grow. And for Jews like myself, the waning days of summer and the beginning of fall also herald the start of the High Holiday season. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year festival, begins tonight, followed almost immediately by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, on Sept. 14.

So for me–like for many of you, I am sure–it’s a time of introspection and renewed commitments, change and new beginnings. It’s a moment to reset our schedules and priorities alike.

Change, of course, is hard, and personal change can often seem impossible. But I love this time of year for its confluence of back-to-school and the Jewish New Year. Because even as change—self-improvement—seems so daunting, we need only to look to our kids for inspiration and examples.

While we adults consult self-help books or therapists, try ever-new diet plans or promise ourselves that this year we’ll start going to the gym, our children evolve seamlessly and beautifully. That child prone to uncontrollable tantrums is now so calm, polite, and outgoing that it’s hard to remember the more difficult times. The child afraid of so much slowly faces her fears and takes the first tentative steps to overcome them. This year, the first grader will learn to read—in two languages!—while the 2-year-old will start nursery school and learn to share and make friends. The children who seemingly do nothing but fight slowly, slowly start to get along and even play together. In what seems like the blink of an eye, the crib gives way to a bed, the diapers give way to potty training, and the pacifiers will, eventually, make their way to the garbage dump. It’s not always easy, it’s never linear, but it’s always successful.

Yes, it’s harder for us adults. But at this time of the year, the hopes, fears, and expectations of a new year should remind us that change is possible, even necessary. As the teacher talks about teaching a new class to read on their own, will I make the time to read more with my children and to encourage them to make their own stories? For that matter, will I make more time for myself, to read the books I love but have mostly pushed aside in the busy-ness of life? As we pray in synagogue for a year of peace, what will I do it increase peace and reduce conflict, in my family and in our world? Will I model the behavior I hope to see in my children and teach them by example to avoid yelling, and deal with conflicts calmly?

It’s hard work, and I so admire those who commit themselves to it and do it well, such as The Orange Rhino blogger who has documented her now-574 days (as of today) of “loving more and yelling less,” as she puts it. I hope to find the strength and commitment in the new year to follow examples like hers.

My prayers and best wishes are with all of you for a school year full of growth and good things, for our kids and for us.

Image: Young man reflecting via Shutterstock

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