This is definitely one of those days when I'd be glad to give up writing. In fact, come to think of it, just about every day is a day when I'd be glad to give up writing. This time it's the Christmas vacation, which my daughter's school connected with the vacation days for Id al-Adha. And since neither of these is an official holiday in this country, the economy keeps going on as usual, meaning that my wife had to go out to her government job, while I stayed home with our daughter. The baby, thank God, goes to a pre-school that shuts down exclusively on Muslim holidays, so right now he's probably singing his favorite song - "Baba Noel al-Khatair," a song about an old man with a long white beard who brings gifts to children who are not my son.
Since the morning, I've been wandering around restless and my daughter has been chasing after me. "Okay," she said when I informed her that I needed a little quiet for an hour in order to get this chore done. "Go to my room and I'll stay here in the living room and watch Al-Jazeera for kids." Since the day I rented an office in town, I have no place to work at home, no place for smoking or a little peace and quiet, so my daughter's offer sounded quite generous and tempting, even though it was obviously blackmail, because we try to limit her television-viewing time.
"Maybe instead of TV you could read a book?," I tried.
"No," she shook her head. "I want cartoons."
I consented under duress and moved my stuff into her room. I sat down on the low pink chair upholstered in a fabric printed with the picture of a cartoon character with long dark hair, and gazed around at my new work space: a plastic vanity, a purple diary decorated with red flowers, pink and yellow drawers with handles in the form of smiling puppies, pictures of my daughter and her friends in furry frames, an empty piggy bank in the form of a happy cow with a flower in its mouth. A lot of pink, some pale red, purple, lots of roses and hearts, and greeting cards full of spelling mistakes that she exchanged with her friends.
Whatever happened to that ideology I believed in so firmly when she was born - that we would not buy anything defined as a product for girls? I clearly remember the arguments I had with my wife over the colors of the coats I picked out for my little girl, and the race cars, and the first soccer ball she received - on her first birthday. What happened to all that? And who picked out this writing table? What happened to the decision that we would refrain from buying designer labels and wouldn't follow the social herd whose behavior was dictated by advertisers?
Sitting there, staring at a smiling Dora and a Bratz skirt, I'd planned on writing an especially biting piece this time, one that made a real economic and social statement, with a political sting and a literary echo, a piece that would accurately reflect my mood since that morning. A column in the spirit of an article by Bertrand Russell I had read the night before.
Sentences I'd read continued to echo in my head. Granted, he began his article by talking about North and South Korea, but it was certainly relevant to the north and south of Gaza. "What is the effect of hunger on slogans?" he asks. "How does the effectiveness of slogans change in accordance with the number of calories in your diet? If one person offers you democracy and the other offers you a sack of grain, at which stage of hunger will you prefer the food to the right to vote?"
I hadn't had any intention of reading a serious book, let alone an essay by Russell. On the contrary, I like very light reading before bed, and pretty much every other time of day. Purely by chance, my hand fell upon a book I recently received in the mail and only yesterday happened to look at, only to find it was a collection of articles by Nobel Prize laureates in literature. I'm not sure who sent it to me, but I tend to take it as a not-so-subtle hint from the Nobel committee that I ought to start preparing. I have to start thinking about my speech to the members of the Swedish academy, and there is absolutely no way my speech is going to fail to measure up to Russell's. And you can bet that it's going to top that of Agnon.
"Daddy!" my daughter called.
"What?!" I yelled as I usually do when my inane train of thought is suddenly interrupted. "Sorry," I apologized. "Yes, what is it, sweetheart?"
"You're not finished yet? I'm bored."
"It'll take another half an hour."
"You can't finish in 15 minutes?"
"How am I ever going to get a Nobel Prize this way? Tell me, how?"
"What are you going to get?"
"Nothing, forget it. I'm telling you, if I don't get this prize, it's just because of this Christmas holiday of yours."
"What are you talking about, Daddy?"
"Nothing, nothing," I grumbled. "And besides, who bought you this cow with the flower in its mouth, huh?"
"You did," she said.
By Shiri Zuck
It's not easy to talk about this, but my little one recently underwent a serious trauma at the playground, and they tell me it's not healthy to keep it bottled up inside (the last time we had to take it out by Caesarean section). The problem is that what's-his-name, who took the trauma to heart, is threatening to sue me for defamation if I leak anything. He vehemently insists that there was no hair pulling, no crying and it certainly wasn't a girl. I for my part badly want him to forget about the trauma, to the point where every time we pass the playground I point to the other side of the street and happily cry out, "There's a dog!" But what's-his-name has already passed the age of getting excited about dogs (only by a little), and I don't succeed in diverting his attention. The little one, on the other hand, demonstrated total willingness to return to the scene of the event.
I don't know if the trauma was much harder for us, or whether the little one is simply getting used to repressing his feelings, but as mentioned, it's not healthy to keep things bottled up inside. So I asked him specifically if he wanted to go to the playground, and he said, "Ah," which is his code word for everything. What's-his-name smiled happily and said, "You see? He wants to get back at her." Not that we are educating him to be violent, but we are certainly not raising him to be a punching bag. So we returned there immediately, after taking him to the barber and getting him a crewcut, which will make it difficult for the hypothetical girls to pull his hypothetical hair.
The new haircut immediately attracted the hypothetical girl, let's call her Lia, because that's what they're all called anyway. The moment the little one entered the playground she pounced on him, pushing a miniature supermarket cart, and immediately ran him over as though he were just a bag of Bamba. I was in shock at the chutzpah, but the object looked at her admiringly and instead of waiting for her to take away his pacifier, as usual, he simply handed it to her by himself. But the pacifier was not enough for Lia, and when she discovered that his hair was too short, and that it's impossible to take something away from someone who wants only to give, she pushed him, and didn't even run away.
It is well-known that in such cases the attacker's mother is obliged to scold the child seriously and demand that he apologize, whereas the victim's mother has to lie to her son and tell him that the other child didn't mean it. And in fact, the interaction took place as it was meant to, and the mothers smiled fake smiles at one another, but the damage had already been done. My little one is in love.
What is amazing, I discovered, is that even at an age when the girls don't know that they're supposed to play hard to get, and the boys haven't yet learned to hold out for two days until the post-date phone call, it's impossible not to see that what is true at age 16 is also true at age zero: The bad girls get the boys, the good girls play doctor with the legless doll.
Like a National Geographic photographer, I diverted the camera from another photo of a lioness munching a giraffe, to the fascinating courtship ritual of the little ones, at the end of which, it also turns out, the lioness needs a toothpick in order to clean the prey from her teeth. All that could simply be an anthropological analysis, but as usual in our case, it had to be accompanied by feelings of guilt. And as usual, the person to blame for everything is the one who is always to blame for everything - Mommy. After all, it is a known fact that we base our partner relationships on those we had with our parents, and what is a mother-child relationship if not a kind of parabola of laughter and tears?
When Mommy is there, he is happy. He knows that he is protected, food and warmth are available, and if the Mommy is me, there is also a chance of songs in gibberish and cuddling with the dog. But that same perfect mother is also the one who puts in his eye drops, sticks a thermometer into his tushy and cuts his nails. In her wickedness, she takes him to the doctor, forces him to sleep and prevents him from touching the spiral heater. All these oppressive acts are accompanied by explanations, more and less believable (I'm only taking the snot out of your nose so it will be easier for you to breathe - really), but who listens when the terrible Q-tip arrives? So already at the age of zero he knows that love hurts, and it should come as no surprise that the witch of the pre-school is also the most popular girl.
Surprisingly, there is a positive side to all this. One day, when you hate with a passion the girl who took him from you, you will know that no matter what they tell you, you certainly have a reason. And if not, you can always go to the playground and get back at Lia.
Suburban inferiority complex
By Avner Bernheimer
We met Tuli, my husband and I, when one of our good friends fell head over heels in love with her. We were all living in Petah Tikva then, and Tuli seemed totally cool. Like an amusing tomboy, with "Betty Blue"-style bouts of hysteria that at the time seemed to us to be very special and artistic. We could easily understand why our friend fell in love with her, but were quite nonplussed when they informed us that they were getting married. Tuli seemed to us like the kind of woman you spend an exciting summer vacation with in Marseilles, with a menu consisting of passionate and violent sex, a reluctant abortion and an attempted murder that leads to a failed suicide attempt - all in order to come back to Israel and marry somebody normal. But our friend saw qualities in her that we didn't see, and my husband and I, like the rest of our peers from high school, had to toe the line and dance at their wedding.
Over the next four years we all came back from the traditional trek in the Far East / South America, enrolled in university and moved into rented apartments in Tel Aviv, with an ever-changing roster of roommates. Meanwhile, our dear friend and his wife used this time to produce three offspring, purchase two family cars and move into a five-room apartment in one of the new neighborhoods in Netanya. We thought we'd manage to keep in touch, but Tuli decided to devote her life to three causes: A) being a mom; B) cutting her husband off from all his old friends; and C) developing the concept of the suburban inferiority complex to a level of a major commercial enterprise that "the Sharks" would leap to invest in.
Nothing remained of the girl who, for a brief moment in the past, we thought was so incredibly cool. The bouts of hysteria that seemed kind of charming back then, kind of French, became embarrassing and troubling. Tuli also forbid our friend from maintaining his relations with us, and when he insisted on getting together with someone from the old gang once every few months, she imposed a veto on traveling to Tel Aviv and insisted that we come to them for coffee and a homemade cake that was just to die for. She didn't care that we were all broke, car-less students for whom making the trip to Netanya in the evening was on a par with the Exodus from Egypt. Not to mention that the three-babies-in-a-cradle card, which she invariably played, was a winning one.
So once in a blue moon we made the trip to Netanya, in the hope of snatching a few quality minutes with our friend, who had traded in the morbid sense of humor that had always endeared him to us for infantile jokes and Talmudic anecdotes. To our surprise, this was still the pleasurable part of the evening. The rest of the time, we had to confront, face-to-face, the monstrous suburban inferiority complex that Tuli had nurtured like a pet.
"So," she interjected, coming out of the kitchen for a moment. "How do they drink coffee in the big city these days? In a big mug or a small one?" She waved mugs of various sizes at us. "Small is fine," I replied with casual politeness, an answer that only got me into a lot more trouble. "I see," she said, the hurt and anger palpable as she went back into the kitchen.
"Did I say something wrong?" I asked our friend, who shrugged his shoulders. But then Tuli came out again. "Which coffee do you drink there in Tel Aviv in the small mug?" she asked, her bottom lip trembling. "I'm sorry, but we don't have a cappuccino machine. Here we drink only instant coffee with milk, or Turkish coffee." This was the moment when I should have done one of two things: A) hurl a vase at her head; or B) shut my husband up. Since I didn't do either, my husband innocently asked, "Which instant do you have?" And Tuli answered: "Regular Elite instant coffee. I'm sorry, but we don't keep all kinds of fancy flavors here like forest-nut or halvah."
Over the years, the visits have become increasingly rare. The situation became intolerable when my husband started his doctoral studies and I got a little famous. For Tuli and her pet suburban inferiority complex, I became a Hollywood star and my husband a condescending intellectual who has no idea what's happening in the world.
"So how are things in high society? What's new with Yael Bar-Titty?" she'd mockingly ask me. "Oh, well, you're too smart for me," was her regular remark to my husband, along with, "It's very easy to talk that way when you're sitting up in your ivory tower."
Each time we met, we had to listen to more comments from her about the air pollution in Tel Aviv, about how dangerous it is there, how there are so many homeless people and it's so filthy, and about how there are so many charlatans and draft dodgers, and that she would never consent "to have her children go to the 'arts' school or the 'democratic' school or any of that snobby northern Tel Aviv rubbish, which is the reason the country looks the way it does and why we're not really going after them in Gaza and getting it over with."
Eventually, we completely lost all connection with them, and no one had heard anything from them in the past decade, until recently, when one friend heard from another friend that they had divorced. Tuli was committed after she went to the mini-market naked and demanded a celebrity discount because she was Yael Bar-Zohar. And our friend moved with the children to Tel Aviv.
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