No Border Police unit could have protected the public from what confronted it on Wednesday. Or any day during the summer vacation for that matter
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Computer keyboards soaked with chocolate milk, hide-and-seek among office cubicles, Bamba strewn everywhere: Such was the scene at thousands of workplaces across the country this week.
Wednesday morning. There are no traffic jams on the way to work, but I feel tense the whole way there. I know the quiet on the roads is an ominous portent. On the radio they say the security forces have been deployed to deal with the “Day of Rage,” but that doesn’t reassure me. Sure, my bosses took the trouble to get a police officer stationed at the entry to the office building, but what good will that do when the hostile forces have already infiltrated?
The “Day of Rage,” which was declared by members of the Facebook group “Parents Fighting for Concurrent Vacation with the Children,” is the day when every Israeli who decided to bring children into this world is supposed to drag his offspring along to his workplace and keep him occupied with fun and productive activities, like making prank calls to the various government ministries. The idea is to make our leaders aware of the real damage caused to our economy by the fact that in the average year, there are just 220 school days (in elementary schools that operate six days a week), which leaves us with 145 days when the kids don’t go to school. Subtract Saturdays, and you’re down to about 93.
And then we come to the holidays: While the Education Ministry gives the kids 30-35 days of vacation for Jewish and national holidays, the average salaried employee only gets about 15 days off for holidays. In short, there are about 75 days a year, more or less, depending on the timing of the Jewish holidays, when the average Israeli worker has to find some other arrangement for the kids.
Knesset under siege!
I’ve reached the policeman at the entrance to work. The radio is reporting that the Knesset is under siege as well – parents have sent the grandmothers there, giving them one day off from the grandchildren, to show the lawmakers in Jerusalem just what rage really is. I take a deep breath and go inside. I have good reason to be afraid, I know what awaits me. The organization I work for decided last month to do its employees a favor and offer their children a free summer day-camp. Very nice, but nothing’s perfect: The camp ended at 3 P.M. every day. Meaning the office was flooded with raucous children during the late afternoon for weeks on end. Not that I have anything against children. I also brought my offspring to work one day. It was a perfectly lovely sight: They sat there calmly, with paper napkins tucked in at their collars, sipping tea and quietly discussing politics. Other people’s children are a different story, of course.
As soon as I walk in the door I have to execute a complex skipping move to avoid stepping on two little girls who have planted themselves on the floor and are busy painting. I think of suggesting to them that they do this on paper instead of straight on the carpet, but then I notice that the sheets of paper they brought with them have gotten tangled in the wheels of the office chair. I brush the Bamba crumbs off my seat, sit down and get ready to switch on the computer, but then I see it’s already on. Someone has entered another user name and been playing all kinds of games on it. I press the keys that are sticky with chocolate milk, but I can’t get the computer unstuck and have to call tech support for assistance.
When I call, a toddler answers the phone. I mean, he doesn’t actually answer me. He’s still at that age where kids pick up the phone and gurgle into it without speaking. In the background I can hear his father regaling him and the other workers’ kids with horror stories about big scary bugs that attack helpless computer servers but are vanquished by heroic tech support staff who show up to save the day. I keep trying to enter all kinds of different passwords, but then I discover that what I thought was chocolate milk on the keyboard was really glue that some mischievous tyke spread on there for a joke. But I take solace in noting that I’m still better off than the woman in the next cubicle: Two kids took her keyboard, tied mouse cords to either end and made a swing out of it.
I understand the kids who are behaving nicely. Deep down they realize that there’s a greater chance that this protest will result in the number of their vacation days being reduced, not in their parents getting to have more vacation days. It’s just that work, the office, is the place I go to get away from children. I have enough of that in the late afternoon and evening. And besides, kids in the workplace hold up a mirror that highlights all the flaws of the place where you spend most hours of the day. It’s like bringing your wife to visit the base where you do reserve duty. Suddenly the place looks so pathetic. This dull, open-space office plan wasn’t meant for their tender young souls. In all likelihood, they’ll spend a good part of their adult life in a place like this. Until then, they should be out playing in the park.
The old gadgets don't impress
Parents’ attempts to find entertaining activities for their kids in the office can also quickly turn lame. When I was little, they’d let me play with the copy machine at my grandfather’s office – make photos of my hands and feet from all different angles. Nowadays, when a machine like that costs just $100 and can be found in nearly every home, it’s no great attraction. The last time I brought my kids to work I tried to engage their attention by enthusiastically telling them things like, “Look, a stapler! Hey, here’s a hole-puncher! Or: “There’s a door here that opens with an employee ID card” and “We’ve got a water cooler!” They were not impressed. The cynical look they gave me said, “Wow, it’s quite the amusement park you’ve got here! You really ought to sell tickets!”
At last I manage to get into my computer. Out of the corner of my eye I see that the worker on the other side of me is growing alarmed. His son is busy scuffling with the boss’s son. Having your kids at work can get you into trouble when it comes to interpersonal relations with your colleagues. Though another worker decides to take advantage of the opportunity and sends his son off to ask the boss for a raise. The boy comes back from the meeting looking very satisfied, clutching a handful of chewy candies.
The bunch of kids sprawled on the carpet turn up the volume of the video they’re watching on somebody’s phone, and I decide to take a break and go get a bite. But here, too, there’s no escape. The people who work at the falafel stand are doing their own Day of Rage, and one of their kids has decided to top my falafel with chocolate sauce instead of tahini. Though he certainly didn’t stint with the amba sauce, I have to say. I smile kindly at him. The unwritten law of Israeli workplaces says it’s forbidden to get mad at kids whom someone else has brought to work. This law makes many people age several decades in a single day. There’s just no genuine way to be nice to someone else’s kids without feeling like you’re 97.
As I chew on my falafel I eavesdrop on two women who are sitting behind me. They’re discussing the only subject there is to talk about in the Israeli summer: One is telling the other in elaborate detail how her sister screwed her over and managed to line up their mother as grandmother-babysitter for all the best days this month.
But seriously. The Day of Rage did not have the impact its organizers hoped for. An unscientific survey I conducted at one major media company, one big bank and two startups found that these workplaces were not really overrun with children. Most of us have learned to make do with all kinds of patchwork arrangements. And there are also plenty of parents who won’t admit that, despite all their griping, they actually enjoy it when the kids are on summer vacation, because that atmosphere of freedom and leisure rubs off on them to some degree too. But the sad part of the situation is that children are often left yearning for attention, which their parents are unable to provide because they have to keep up with their jobs.
This was the real picture that could be seen this past week in places where parents did bring their kids to work. To me, the real cost of the long summer vacation was felt in those situations this summer when I had to be on an important phone call, one I’d spent days preparing for, while my 5-year-old stood next to me crying and not understanding the message my hand movements were meant to convey: “Daddy’s busy right now on an important call. Just hang on for five minutes and he’ll be right with you.” The little guy couldn’t understand why Daddy essentially wanted him to turn invisible for the next five minutes, or maybe even until the end of the summer.