I return to Boston in ten days. I am looking forward to sharing my experience in Israel with anyone who wants to listen, but this comes at a price, because not only am I going to be asked why there’s not a ring on my finger, but I am going to be asked the question that has plagued me since I was sixteen—“So when are you getting a ‘real job’?”
I have been in the early childhood education field for ten years and I am infant-toddler certified in Massachusetts. My first work with children was babysitting as a young teenager and then when I was two months shy of seventeen, I began to work for a very well-known daycare chain. I felt special—sixteen-year-olds could not work at this daycare chain unless they were in a work study program (which I wasn’t) or had the approval of the Regional Manager—and since I did have the Regional Manager’s approval, I began my job as an Assistant Teacher to infants, toddlers and preschoolers. I was at that daycare for five years and while I majorly disliked how the company would put profits over the needs of the teachers, I was well-respected, praised by the management for always having a flexible schedule (especially being one of the only college students there who actually lived in Boston, thus why I never got to take time off during Spring or Winter Break), and worked with decent parents, most of the time, anyway. The job was great to have as a high school student since it was in walking distance from my high school and working with the little ones sure made me think twice about becoming a teenage mother. I had my job up until a few weeks after I had graduated college and loved being able to work right before and after classes and also having the daycare be nearby. Working with children helped me towards healing the harms of my childhood. But many have not deemed this as worthy.
Despite the fact that I was at the same job for five years, made more than minimum wage (although I lost overtime payments after Bain Capital bought the company out) and was good at what I did, no one saw what I did as a “real job.” Apart from the other teachers and a few of the parents, outsiders saw my job as fun and games. Because I am teacher-certified, there were several times when I would have three infants or four toddlers by myself. There would be times when it would just be me by myself for nine hours a day. It was exhausting, but outsiders would say my job was just “glorified babysitting.” Please. The outsiders wouldn’t last a day at my job. How is what I was doing not a “real job”? I was taking care of children. I was making sure they were clean, safe, fed, happy and learning. I was helping the children to think creatively, socialize and to ask questions when they could talk. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough.
My job after college was as a nanny to a six-year-old boy and his three-year-old sister who attended my daycare. I had the little girl in my care since she was two-months old and while the job wasn’t what I wanted to do, I was lucky to be able to have a job. While I faced opposition for not going to graduate school right after college, had I gone through with the program I had been looking into (master’s in Political Science), I would’ve been miserable. Nannying to me seemed like a good job to have straight after college. It didn’t pay well since I only worked after the boy was out of school and full-time hours were only during school vacations and the summer, but there had been perks like my monthly train/bus pass and getting to raid the fridge (although this reversed all of my London weight loss progress.) I wasn’t respected by the boy and he wasn’t disciplined by his parents, but still, I was just glad to pay my bills. The boy’s parents knew I had my heart set on a different master’s program (Public Policy) and supported me by buying me a GRE book. I did horrible on the test, but I got into the program and was offered a decent scholarship. Of course, I know that the only reason I even applied to the program was to get the outsiders off of my back for not having a “real job.” I had no idea what Public Policy was and when I told my Birthrighters how miserable I was, they told me to look into my heart and to examine what I really wanted to do, but it had to be for me, not someone else. I made the difficult choice not to attend graduate school for the second time. Now that I had quit my nanny job in the hopes of going to graduate school, I had to start looking for work again. I babysat part-time for six months, while working on my application to be an Israel Teaching Fellow. It was through one of my best clients that I got my second nanny job, a job that while outsiders might not see as a “real job,” completely stitched up the broken pieces of my soul. This family, a Modern Orthodox Jewish family who treated me like a princess, was my salvation. After seven years of doing full-time work with children, I finally had a job that I loved, paid me enough to get me through my bills and have a little bit of money to put on the side. My commute was shorter, thus making my mood improve. All three of the children, five-year-old Jacob, two-year-old Noah and baby Joshua, were the best kids I have ever worked with. They listened to me. They were empathetic. My boss, Lyndsay, and her husband, Danny, were 100% supportive when I told them I was moving to Israel. They, along with the family that referred me to them in the first place, were able to get me other babysitting gigs, already adding to the steady stream of clients I had. I wasn’t working in an office. I wasn’t able to cure cancer. My job wasn’t prestigious. But I loved my job. And I wish that’s what people would take away.
I leave my students this Friday. I am absolutely devastated over this. These students, who cause my energy to run out, are steadying themselves to change the world. They make a bunch of messes, but they give me, on a daily basis, countless reasons to be optimistic. They have been the only thing that has remained steady in Israel. I have had issues with the higher-ups. I have had issues with my Fellows at times. There has been confusion about living in a religious country when I am Agnostic. But the students’ smiles put a steady beat in my heart. It always comes back to the children. When high school was hard, I would get hugs from the toddlers at the daycare. When I got sad over dropping eggs on the floor while making brownies once, Jacob asked me if meeting Jennifer Lawrence would make me feel better. (Yes, Jacob. Yes, it would.) I bump into my students all the time in Netanya and love seeing how excited they look. How am I the cause of this reaction in them? I didn’t go into education for the money. I went into it because of my heart. That is what people need to see, not that I am a “bad Jew” because I didn’t get an advanced degree or marry someone who did.
Last Monday I and the other Fellows had a “graduation” ceremony from the Israel Teaching Fellows program. We were awarded plaques and certificates and my teacher, Merav, came to the ceremony to talk about Brian and I, even though she is still dealing with the broken kneecap that has haunted her since she obtained the injury just before the Passover vacation started. She said that by Brian and I being at school, the children want to learn English. I have had children fight to be in the English Room. They ask me about my life, offer me snacks and supply endless hugs. They get me up in the morning. I can’t think of anything better.
*At least Israel thinks my work is important. June 9th, 2014*
My Birthright guide, Matt, has been instrumental in getting me some contract work related to Israel activism for when I come home. I still plan to babysit on the side as I miss my kids back home, but even still, I’m looking forward to getting back to some office work. I know some of the full-time positions I want don’t open until September, but I should be able to keep my head above water. I know Israel activism is right for me at this time, even if I have to wait a bit for a “dream” job in the field. I may not always be respected for having worked with children for so long, or for supporting a country that the world refuses to understand, but as long as I can pay my bills, not be on welfare and teach children to be decent people, then that is as “real” of a job that anything could be. And, if I am lucky, others might finally see it that way, too.