Sunday, May 6, 2007

High School Back-to-School-Night Remarks

(These are the remarks I made for our Middle School's Back-to-School Night in September 2006. It was during "parshat Noach", when the weekly Torah reading is about Noah and the flood. )

Appearances can be deceiving.
Here we stand,
- between the creation of the world in parshat Beraishit and its destruction in parshat Noach;
- at Back To School Night for High School, which is both the end of one stage of our children’s education, and the beginning of the next,
- on behalf of our adolescent children, who are at the end of their childhood and beginning their adulthood.

We are bein hashamashot.

Bein HaShamashot or, “twilight” is the transition of day to night, as one Halachic calendar day becomes the next. It is a time of transformation, uncertainty and great potential. It is neither day nor night, but possesses qualities of both, with a character, definition and halachot all its own.

It’s hard to see clearly at dusk. Transitions are most appreciated and understood in hindsight. Bein hashamashot, appearances can be particularly deceiving.

When they see us in public, are our teens really cringing in embarrassment at the evidence that they have parents that our presence suggests, or is that their way of hiding their swell with pride or even relief that we’re present and involved in their lives?

Popular culture characterizes this as a turbulent, argumentative period. According to our tradition, the distinction between childhood and young adulthood is the birth of the yetzer Hatov, the good inclination.

While their attention appears otherwise engaged, our children spend much of this period focused acutely on us, on our example: following it, surpassing us one moment, failing dramatically to do so the next; reaching out for us, pushing us away; simultaneously wanting to separate from us and wanting to retreat into our embrace.

So, we grapple together in the twilight. Our own experience as adolescents is not transferable. We can only offer our presence, our support and our example. This presence, support, and example is achievable and demonstrable through your active involvement in our PTA.

Our children may know we write checks to the school (and of course, we must continue to write them), but they experience our support and commitment to their education tangibly, when they see us involved and participating in the activities of the school through the PTA.

Our kids are watching us. They keenly observe when we give over our wallets, our calendars, our answering machines, our conversations and our hearts to matters concerning their educational experience.

Just as our involvement in their school life begins to appear less necessary, less urgent than before, we must remember how deceptive this is.

Bein hashamashot, the role of the PTA transforms from that of provider to that of facilitator. In Elementary School, we ran the events. In High School, they run the events and (maybe) invite us.

Our children are turning more often to their peers for answers, guidance, advice, companionship, commiseration... We need to do the same. In Elementary School, the PTA provided a social outlet for meeting other parents, arranging play-dates for the children and ourselves. In High School, we need each other more than ever. Through the PTA’s social network we support each other as parents of adolescents.

Remember our separation anxiety when our children started Elementary School? We turned to the PTA as a pretext for being on campus, to feel connected to our children, their friends and their day. I urge you to look to the PTA to do the same in High School.

Our PTA has been working very hard to maximize the efficient use of all our parent resources. Please know that the time, ideas, energy and funds you bring to the PTA will be gratefully used and not wasted. We need your box tops, we need your leadership, we need your receipts, we need your time, we need your ideas, we need your talents, we need your enthusiasm, we need YOU.

It may take a long time for all those box tops to add up to a Simchat beit hashoeva, a field trip, a Creative Arts Festival, or the End of Year Bash, but the results of your participation will be felt immediately by your children.

There’s a mishna in Avot that lists the things created bein hashamashot on the first ever erev Shabbat.
They are: The mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach]; the mouth of the well [that followed bnei Yisroel in the desert]; the mouth of the donkey [that spoke to Bilaam]; the rainbow; the Mon [we ate in the dessert]; Moshe’s staff; the Shamir [worm that carved the the mizbeach stones]; and the alphabet, inscription and Luchot that made the Luchot haBrit.

These twilight-born items either had a purpose that belied their form, or are emblematic of experiences whose outcome countered expectations. They illustrate instances where appearances were deceptive, indeed.

All these items had a time-limited, specific use and showed up only when their purpose was at hand, except for the rainbow, which endures. Like our children’s emerging character, the rainbow, while created at twilight, can only be seen later, by the light of day, when the sky is at least partially clear.

May our presence, support and example lead our children well and nurture the growth of their yetzer hatov.

May we help each other discern and enjoy the rainbows forming in this fleeting twilight.

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