A Note From Alicia: New Beginnings

Dear Families,

The Many Notes of New Beginnings

Teki’ah‑shevarim teru’ah‑tekiah;

Teki’ah: one long blast
Shevarim: three broken sounds
Teru’ah: nine staccato notes.

We are often given a simple message about new beginnings—that they are joyous, celebratory times, opportunities to dwell in hope and possibility. The apples and honey of the new year make this wish particularly concrete, as we relish moments of pure sweetness. It is important to allow ourselves these experiences of shared pleasure and optimism. They renew our spirit and fuel the journey ahead.

And yet transitions, even celebratory ones, are often more complex, and the pressure, for grown-ups and children alike, to feel unadulterated happiness and enthusiasm as we begin anew can sometimes be overwhelming. As early childhood teachers and as parents we live this complexity each day. One of the central challenges of early childhood is the process of coming to terms with holding multiple feelings simultaneously—learning that we can feel happy and excited to start something new, while also feeling sad to let go of the old and worried about what this new experience will hold. The beginning of school is filled with these moments of conflict. A child may cry at the start of the day, reluctant to separate, and soon after be happily engaged. Or a child may cheerfully play all day, and then become tearful upon the reunion at the end of the day, overwhelmed by the effort they’ve put in and the comfort they feel in being back with those they trust most implicitly. Temperament also bubbles to the surface powerfully in moments of change; some find newness exhilarating and others approach the these experiences with more reserve. There are so many ways to chart the unknown.

It is easy, and perhaps comforting, for us as adults to relegate the challenges of managing separation and transitions to early childhood. There is a certain self-protection in seeing these ambiguities as ones we outgrow. Surely we become more practiced, after all, and our capacity for reason and logic develops. However, the complexity of change remains a life long task, even as we may become more skilled at leaning into the turns and more confident in our sense of perspective and purpose.

Earlier this week, I spoke with several parents about both the pleasures and growing pains of friendship. Parents who had worried about whether their child would connect with new friends were thrilled to see relationships blossoming, while others wondered about the constraints of old bonds becoming too entrenched.

Yesterday I talked with a new mom about the mix of emotions and experiences that accompanies the early weeks of parenting. We are overjoyed by this new life while simultaneously feeling exhausted and overwhelmed; we are immeasurably grateful to be so blessed and at the same time can find ourselves resentful at the loss of freedom and self-assurance, guilty about the rough edges of our joy.

This morning my own eight year old decided that he didn’t want to go to school, because the prospect of the day, let alone the rest of third grade, was suddenly too daunting to face, even though the day before he seemed calm and confident.

This afternoon, I spoke with several parents about the transition to kindergarten and how all of the opportunities and choices are exciting, and yet it is also so hard to try to look ahead and envision a crystal ball of our child’s future. Parents often express in these conversations that they wish they could just stay in the Nursery School environment for their child’s entire education, or that they long for the simplicity of their own childhood, where there was only one neighborhood school to attend. The unknown is invigorating and the options fill us with gratitude, but at the same time the familiar feels safe and it can be easier to have fewer choices.

Later, a teacher outside my door collected boxes for her move to a new apartment. Several staff members celebrated birthdays while several others coped with family loses. A friend sent me a message about a new job prospect. All the while, the smell of honey cake and challah filled the air, and the children listened to the sound of the shofar.

Jonathan Silin, a scholar, mentor, and friend writes, “The task in life, as it is in the classroom, is to preserve access to the old, even as we appreciate the new, to permit ourselves happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain, strength and vulnerability, the past and the future.”

I wish you so much sweetness in the new year to come, and I also hope that you will find, within our walls, a community in which you and your children can feel at ease and supported in times of joy and sorrow, as well as in the many moments in which those feelings wash over us together.

Shanah tovah,