It's normal to develop anxieties when it's necessary to move and put your kids in a new school. But when my family moved to Jerusalem (the capital of either Israel or Palestine, depending on who you ask), I had additional worries: Like maybe zealots would be offended by my appearance and pelt me with stones. Or perhaps my barber would murder me with his straight razor in order to gain favor within his terrorist sleeper cell. But after being in Jerusalem with my family for a year, I've handily avoided being pelted or murdered (my barber uses a safety razor). However, these morbid scenarios aren't something most parents worry about when changing schools.
Two years ago, we had no idea we'd be moving abroad, and we had other concerns. Our daughter had just finished first grade, and she was already getting burned out on education. That seemed a bit early to us, so we enrolled her in a new school that we thought would help get her spark back. We knew she would rather not make a change at all—so we didn't take the decision lightly, and made a commitment as parents that we'd stick with this choice, at least until middle school.
However, things do happen, don't they? And as our daughter was adjusting to her dynamic and unconventional new school, my wife was called by her former news organization about applying for a foreign correspondent job in Jerusalem. Obviously, that would be a terrific opportunity! But on the other hand, the qualities that make it a great place to have a news bureau (perpetual conflict, religious and ethnic animosities, terrorism, violent oppression, racist jingoism) are also qualities that could make Jerusalem a less than ideal place to raise a child. But it would be an adventure! (Right?) And what a place to learn about ancient history, religion, and cultural diversity! (Right?) So two-thirds of the way through our child's year at the new school, we pulled her out and jetted off to the Middle East, where we enrolled her in yet another, and very different, new school. (Smiles sheepishly.)
Upon arrival at the new school in Jerusalem, it became clear she'd have to adjust to a few differences. These words were carved in stone above the entrance to the main building: "London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews." (I hoped that the building's current purpose would be more fruitful.) Also of note: The new school came with an armed guard and a bomb shelter! They informed us they would have periodic bunker drills with air raid sirens. (The fire drill bells at her old school were upsetting enough!) And now, rather than making fairy houses out of moss and sticks, and building class consensus on math facts, her new school would teach British curriculum and include "religious studies"—which I feared could include an excess of peltings and murders.
She would also have to make friends in a new classroom where she would be the only American kid among children from the Netherlands, Spain, Zimbabwe, Romania, Brazil, Italy, Russia, and Israel. I was worried about that—but she wasn't. She had just made a bunch of new friends a few months before, and she knew she could do it again. And she was right: Those other kids had also come from other places, and were very good at making new friends as well! She also had no trouble with the bunker drills, and the guard has yet to unholster his pistol. She sometimes wishes she was still building fairy castles—but was delighted that her final project this year included making candy bars. And, mercifully, the religious studies instructor had the prudence to soft-pedal the stonings and incest in favor of lessons about kindness and virtue—which apparently can be found in the scriptures by a selective reader.
Trust me, we would never have switched schools in the first place if we knew we were going to be moving in six months. So it was a good thing we didn't know—and here's why: The experience of successfully adjusting to a new school gave our daughter the confidence that she could do it again. This confidence was incredibly helpful when our family needed to make this new and sudden transition, and we would've missed out on the opportunity to gain that confidence if we'd been able to make a more informed decision. She's thriving in her new school, and while she's often homesick, she's hardly ever bored.
We returned home to America this past summer for a vacation, and while we were away, Hamas and Israel found enough pretext to reheat their old conflict to a boil. We may very well return to a changed place. But, thanks to our previous experiences there, we've learned that the virtue of avoiding change is overrated. And even though we do our best to make the right decisions, it can really be okay to make the wrong ones.