Token.

Yesterday, The Who came home from school and told me that he was the “Hanukkah Expert” in the other kindergarten class. A few pointed questions later, I figured out that he was invited from his classroom to the one next door to “answer some questions about Hanukkah that Mrs. K already knew the answer to, but she wanted the rest of the kids to hear the answers to.” He also told me that he had been the Hanukkah expert in his own class the day before. He seemed to really enjoy this position of honor — or at the very least, cheerfully go along with it. And, frankly, it didn’t surprise me that he was the kid chosen for this. He’s outspoken, outgoing, and pretty damn knowledgeable about a lot of things. But, it occurred to me that, while all of these things might make him an excellent “expert,” he was probably chosen because he’s the only Jew in his class — and maybe the whole PM kindergarten. Is that possible?

It had honestly never occurred to me that he might be the only one. I mean, sure. Until I became friends with some of the parents at his preschool, I was among the only Jew in my circle of friends. Our town is not known for being particularly Jewish. In fact, for the first several years that I lived here, I was hard-pressed to find a single challah for the holidays. (I now know all the Jew hotspots; never fear.) But, for the first 4.5 years of his life, he went to a Jewish daycare/preschool and while not all the kids were Jewish (and almost none of the teachers) he wasn’t alone. Everyone there was a Hanukkah expert; it was part of the curriculum.

The Who has a bit of difference in his life. He is an only child in a community where most families have more than one. A Jew in a largely non-Jewish town. A Queerspawn in a class where most, if not all of his classmates have straight parents. And who knows what else. He has a gender-nonconforming parent. He has a very fat parent. He has no grandparents living close by. And on and on. Now, please don’t misunderstand; this is not a pity party. I am neither suggesting that The Who’s circumstances are less-than, nor am I suggesting that he has it worse than anyone else. But I do recognize that in many ways, the deck is stacked against him. (While also recognizing that the deck is also stacked incredibly for him in many ways: he is a white, middle-class male, for example.)

As an adult, I don’t mind being different. I am often the only one of my sort in various gatherings (Jewish, lesbian, fat, etc.) But as a kid, I definitely spent a lot of time wishing I were more like others. I wished I had a younger sibling, wished we had a Christmas tree, wished I could wear Guess jeans, etc. And I bet this comes as a surprise even to those who know me pretty well. I was outgoing, well-spoken, self-possessed, funny, and charismatic. I probably seemed pretty well-adjusted. Just as he does.

I don’t even know what the ultimate point of this particular navel-gaze is. I guess I just wonder what it is like for him, understanding that my experiences are not his. Just because I keep having a tiny twinge of discomfort at the notion of him being “the token Jew” in his kindergarten doesn’t mean it bothered him in the slightest. And just because I don’t mind being different now, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t mind it as a 6-year-old.

I guess I could ask him.

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2 thoughts on “Token.

  1. How wonderful to be a expert in kindergarten. Such self confidence.
    As far as all the other adjectives describing his two mommies….
    Not relative..
    You two have loved him…given him respect and value his input.
    Taught him empathy….kindness…and acceptance for differences.
    What a wonderful gift for the little Jew boy.

  2. I love Marie’s reply. On another note, I was one of three Jews in my high school graduating class. It did surely form me in some ways. I believe everyone sticks out for one thing or another, all the stuff you mentioned and much other stuff (too thin, thin hair, bad at sports, bad at academics, buck teeth, flat feet, lisping, who knows what). Part of life I believe and helps one learn to deal with “less than ideal” circumstances and I also think makes a stronger, more compassionate person. The Who shows the positives of his upbringing and his self esteem and, while I hope he doesn’t suffer from this separateness, I always hope things have changed enough so that differences are respected and even welcomed. What did he say when you asked him…or maybe he thought nothing of it so asking make it more apparent….

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