The other day, L looked up from a book she was reading. "Ima (mom in Hebrew), what's a root beer float?"
Two things struck me from that question.
First is one I have thought about many times in the last 3 years. Why did I have my children call me "Ima" instead of mom?? Yes, it was convenient in Kansas when I was one of a handful, but here in Israel everyone is Ima, and how I wish I had had the foresight to be "mom" so that my child's cries could be distinguished to me from the crowd!
Second, how does my 10 year old daughter not know what a root beer float is? What a completely different childhood they are having. I described the drink to her and made a mental note to make sure we had some floats this summer. As luck would have it, N was with me at the grocery store a few days later and as anyone with children knows, they might not be able to find the math book, milk container, second shoe or whatever item they need that is directly in front of them, but when it comes to sweets and treats they have eagle vision. My little bird of prey quickly descended upon the cans of root beer that apparently have been before me this whole time (one of our local groceries stocks loads of US/UK products because of the local population) so we had them at home.
But as we approach the end of our third year, I see that my kids, though American, and being raised by American parents and living in the digital small world age are having such a different cultural childhood which of course is ever-present in religious life, but extends to food tastes, songs (it doesn't get cuter than your first grader belting out Hebrew classics!), TV, books etc.
Which brings me back around to reading. I have tried hard to keep up with N's voracious appetite for books and was fortunate enough to discover a used book seller that ships internationally for free. (I have no financial interest but they do great things: betterworldbooks.com) I have resisted joining the library here because I thought that the English section couldn't possibly be up to par. And how I miss the library! I have always loved reading and taken advantage of the wonderfulness of libraries. Not just for fiction. When I developed my interest in screenplays I learned to write them from books I checked out at the library (shout out to any film students that are readers: I have a great script for you!)
But now here I am 3 years later with my Israeli children, and they are reading Hebrew books. The tide is starting to change. Only A reads in both languages at grade level. It's funny because while our friends in America may have their kids in a Hebrew school a few hours a week, we have A in English school a few hours a week. The teacher has been incredible and took these kids from barely recognizing their English letters to (most of them) reading at first grade level. I imagine that the first graders in the America will surpass these little guys with time but being here has also taught me that so much of the educational process is fluid and flexible. N and L essentially skipped an entire grade when they spent their first year in Israel without much in the way of assistance. When they started their second school year it was in a language they were far from academically fluent in. And yet, they're making it. And so are all the other kids in similar positions. OK, it's more challenging for them at times, and sometimes you have to cover some math basics that may have been missed here and there but they do it.
N recently finished his third novel in Hebrew. Some have recommended getting books the kids have already read in English, but my kids aren't interested in "working" to read a book in Hebrew that they've already read. Before Aliyah, our wise friend Frankie S. told us to just wait until there was a book that they could only get in Hebrew and they wanted to read. It will happen, he sagely reassured. And he was right. A book that had been translated from French that was interesting and funny got N's attention and once he finished I think he realized "hey, I enjoyed that. I'll try it again."-- and he did. Two more novels, and now I realize that it's time to join the library. Fortunately, there is a library in walking distance to us so N and L can even go on their own to get books and I hope this will open up the world of reading to them even more.