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By: Jen Wise

I love reading other mommy blogs, specifically the ones where the mom homeschools her brood of (six? seven? ten?) kids. I don't for a second want to homeschool my kids, but I’m always so happy for this blogging mom that has found her groove and is able to handle all the demands placed on her at once. If I homeschooled my kids, the only thing we'd really work on would be learning to tell time so we'd know when The Good Wife was on. That, and on learning to use a measuring cup so we can measure out the water and oil needed to make a Dunkin Hines Brownie. Although, in truth, I really hate measuring oil for a recipe; the measuring cup is always so hard to clean afterwards. I usually just eyeball the oil and hope for the best. So yeah, we'd be able to tell time and measure a quarter cup of water. And really, what else is there?

When I read a homeschooling blog, I am always amazed at the spontaneous learning that goes on in these homes. Like when the kids are all happily coloring together and then all of sudden and without prompting, they start sorting the crayons into piles by color. Then they count all the crayons in each pile and add together the number of crayons in each pile to get a total crayon count.

And then they graph it.

And yet today, to my sheer delight (tempered by a small amount of horror, although I am sure my husband, Josh-The-Math-Guy, would only see delight here) my oldest child spontaneously burst into - what? Education? Learning? It wasn't homeschooling because I had nothing to do with it. It was more like self-schooling.

We were working on a Chanukah project, making super simple place cards for our family Chanukah party. He was the only kid home, he had me all to himself, which in and of itself was a minor Chanukah miracle, and we were working together to trace and cut out small dreidels to glue onto index cards that we had folded in half to make standing place cards. So yeah, where was I? Right, the self-schooling thing. Every once in a while, in the middle of cutting out his dreidels, he would stop to figure out how many he had left to cut. He wouldn't just count up the ones that were not yet cut out. He would actually say aloud the total number he had traced, count the number of dreidels in his already cut pile and then subtract(!) in his head. Wait, it gets better. Then he'd pick up Josh's graphing calculator* from the dining room table and check his work.

My first thought was, wow, he's checking his work. My entire school career would have turned out so much differently if I had just listened to my father and checked my work. Such a work ethic, this child of mine. But now that I’m looking back on this afternoon, my new question is, how in the world does my 6 year old know how to use a graphing calculator? Because I’ll tell you, if my husband's students are any indication, most tenth graders don't know how to use one.

When I asked, he said Abba showed him how to use it. And when I asked him further, he said he really liked math and playing around with the calculator and that in school, he really likes the math part of class. And that a lot of kids in his first grade class don't like math but he doesn't care.

Same thing on the playground. He doesn't care that most of the other boys won't play with the girls. He plays with one specific girl because he's going to marry her.

I really admire this kid. I don't get a lot of one on one time with each of my kids, but every time I do, I learn something new. Today I realized that my oldest child has it in him to stand up for what he believes, for what he wants. He – and by extension the rest of the family - has been having some issues with another boy in his class not being so nice, almost bordering on bullying and we have been trying to give my son the tools he needs to stand up for himself. It's been very slow going, but we work on it every day and little by little I see it sinking in.

I think that's a big lesson of Chanukah - having the self-confidence to stand up for yourself, for your family, for your religion, for your ideals. Chanukah is about knowing that even when someone else - in this case, the Greeks - wants you to be something else, be someone that you are not, you need to say, “you know what, I’m good with myself, I don't care what you say”. I'm going to like math and I'm going to play with my friend even if she's a girl and I’m even going to ignore the kid that’s bothering me and just walk away. That’s a lot for any kid; most adults have trouble doing that.

The menorah can teach us the same lesson. As opposed to Shabbat candles, which are very internal, very personal, the lights of Chanukah candles are very public. With a season dominated by red and greed, these candles sit on windowsills in homes everywhere and declare to the world that we are still here and that we’re pretty proud of it too.

The world can bully us, the world can make us feel bad and feel that perhaps we should change our ways. But like the Maccabees, my first grader is teaching me that it’s okay to be a little different, to like what you like and to do what you do, and to stand up for yourself and your beliefs, even if the world (or a classmate) is doing something different. Maybe we can all take a lesson from a little first grader and learn to let our inner Maccabee shine through, right alongside those Chanukah candles on the windowsill.

*What? Doesn’t everyone keep a graphing calculator on their dining room table?


Jen Wise lives somewhere in NJ with her husband and their kids. She can be found blogging at The Crumb Factory about life with her family, her somewhat messy house and her trusty glue gun.

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