When I was born, my parents were not frum. As a result, for the first few years of my life, I grew up in a non-frum household. Even though we weren't frum, we did keep several Jewish practices - we went to shul somewhat regularly, my mother lit Shabbos candles (somewhat regularly), we kept kosher (in the home) and the like.
One thing that my mother always insisted on was that we have a Jewish education. As a result, when I was six years old, I was enrolled in a frum yeshiva for first grade. I can honestly say that it was one of the best Judaic experiences I had as a kid. My rebbe that year was a phenomenal man who kept the children engaged in learning.
I don't know if my parents had a hard time getting me enrolled there or not, but I was there - and the effects of my year there continue to influence me positively to this day.
The year afterwards, my parents moved out of state and I was enrolled in the Hebrew Academy of Morris County, a Conservative yeshiva in New Jersey. I was there for three years until my parents separated.
My mother took my sister and I and moved to Brooklyn. Shortly after her separation, she became a Ba'alas Teshuva - and my sister and I did so as well. However, she found it difficult to get me into a yeshiva. One wanted to start me in the third grade (I was already ten years old - far too old for third grade). Another was only willing to accept me if I did not have any contact with my non-frum father. I eventually found a temporary home in a yeshiva in Brooklyn that primarily served children of Russian descent. I was one of only four frum kids in the school. After two years there (where I learned every Russian curse word - though I would never speak them) I was finally enrolled in a "mainstream" yeshiva (albeit held back one grade in Hebrew studies). It was in this yeshiva that I had many of the problems that I've blogged about here before.
I find it interesting that the one year I spent in a frum yeshiva as a non-frum kid was far more influential in my life than the years I spent as a frum kid in a "mainstream" yeshiva. While, to be perfectly honest, I can't say that I'd be frum today just by the experience I had in first grade, I can also say that I might not be frum today if not for the experiences of that year.
I find it interesting, however, that my parents (who weren't rich, by any means) were able to get me into a frum yeshiva in first grade, when they themselves (and I too) were not frum at all, and yet, four years later, as a frum parent with frum children, my mother was unable to get me into a frum yeshiva without all sorts of unacceptable conditions. What happened in those four years?
Of course, I realize that the yeshiva world is not a monolithic bloc, and that I may simply have been lucky that my parents found someone with a more open mind back in first grade. But I wonder what the people who turned me away back when I was trying to get into fifth grade would say if they knew that because a frum yeshiva accepted a non-frum kid, that the non-frum kid is a frum adult with frum children. I also wonder if stories such as mine aren't more common - or, more precisely, potential stories - where children from marginally observant families who apply to frum yeshivos and are rejected end up turning away from Judaism altogether.