Out of the mouths of babes, and all that…
My 14-year-old is going on a trip with her school. One of the billion things I love about Israel is this overnight event. Each year, Israel takes its teenagers on overnight trips, out into the fields and nature. They hike, they climb, they explore to the far corners of our land. It is a love instilled from the time they are young and remains with them all their lives. The girls in her class have been told they should bring tents. They’ll pitch their own tents; make their own food. My daughter was half amused and half horrified at the opportunity (and 100% anxious to get there!).
“Girls don’t build tents,” says my daughter. “We’re a spoiled generation.”
My first thought was “where did I go wrong?” When have I ever said to my daughters that they can’t do anything, everything? I’ve taken her camping – but yeah, maybe it was my older son who built the tent. We’ve cooked food out in the fields and slept under the stars.
I wish I could have recorded the conversation. I remember some of her philosophizing as she talked about prepared foods she wants to take along. At one point, with her phone in her hand, she said, “We don’t play outside; we don’t actually TALK to people. We’re a spoiled generation. Hello? Whatsapp!”
More than actually being spoiled, though, is I think the desire to be. She wants to be like every child her age, all over the world. And yet, deep down, she knows that there is a part of her that never will be.
Twice her oldest brother has left home to go to war (once, after 8 days, he thankfully returned and the would-have-been war remained only an “operation” and the other time he was gone for weeks).
When she was 3 years old, she had to put on a gas mask and then have it with her for days (…or was it weeks?). She refused when we tried to put it on her the first time.
When she was 7, her world shifted as her older sister got married and her oldest brother left for the army. For weeks at a time, she didn’t see him or talk to him but would greet him at the door with a shout as she threw herself into his arms for the much anticipated hug.
When she was 8, she heard us talking about a soldier who had been shot and in a voice filled with anxiety asked us if it was Elie. No, we assured her – not Elie. Elie is in the north; this was in the south, we went on to explain. Desperate to get through to her, to calm her, we gave her silly, meaningless details that helped bring back her sense of security for a time.
When she was 9, a false alarm (meant for Beersheva but accidentally sounded in the Jerusalem/Beit Shemesh areas), sent her and her class running for the bomb shelters. She was in third grade and got separated from her class (A Child’s Alarm). That traumatized her for weeks as she kept expecting more alarms because, “I wasn’t ready for the alarm.” She asked where we would go if there was an attack and I explained that we have two areas of the house that are protected – the bomb shelter, which is quite small; and another area.
“So Abba [her father] and Davidi and Shmulik [two of her brothers] should go down there and you and me and Elie should go to the bomb shelter because it’s up here.” Elie was in the army and hadn’t been home in more than a month, but she still planned for his safety.
When she was 10, she had a class in school on basic medical care and the rudiments of first aid at a fourth grade level. She had a test explained to me what she was learning.
“ABC” she said.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“Air waves, Breathing, and Circulation”
“They teach you that in English?” I asked her.
“No, but they tell us ABC because it isn’t the same in Hebrew.” Okay. It was cute and I went along with it as she spoke and then my mind stopped and I heard not the cute tone of her voice, that I love listening to, but the words. I asked her to explain it again and then asked if this was the teacher’s explanation or hers. This is what my child told me when she was 10 years old.
“The teacher. He’s really funny. He told us ‘If a doctor says a patient doesn’t have a pulse, but he does, what does that mean?’ ”
She giggled and then answered, “it means it’s a bad doctor.”
And then she went on to explain this ABC thing as: “It’s like a missile hitting a building.”
See, you have a building, she explains. If the missile hits the top of the building, the people can live, but if it hits the bottom, they won’t. So, if the person isn’t getting air, for example, they will die – check the airways first. If the airways are clear, but the person isn’t breathing, you do one thing….I don’t remember now. My brain stopped after the explanation of the building and the missile.
It’s actually a good description – the concept of prioritizing…but the image remains and the wonder. I can’t see any teacher in another country using the same example…and yet it worked. It didn’t distress the children. They live with the reality all the time. They understand what happens when a missile hits and the physics of where it hits a building.
That, I guess, is Israel’s child and listening to my child give that explanation was enough to make me regret, just a bit, the abnormality of it all. I am thrilled beyond all words that we live in Israel, that our lives and futures are in this beautiful land but I regret…just a bit…that a child could be taught…and can understand based on the imagery of a missile hitting a building.
When she was 11, the Fogel family was massacred in Itamar. Their bodies and the two boys who survived the attack were discovered by 12-year-old Tamar Fogel. Somehow, my youngest daughter internalized the trauma and for months she was afraid of the dark, afraid to sleep in a room with a window opened, afraid to sleep if the door to her room wasn’t locked. It took months to slowly undo the trauma, to have her return to the point that she would be willing to be in the house alone or in her room with the window (on the third floor of the house) open to the breeze.
When she was 13, just a year ago she was outside with her friends when she heard a siren indicating an incoming missile. A few other times during that operation, she knew the uncertainty and fear.
She is Israel’s child.
Somehow, the fact that she can live with all these traumas and worries and yet focus on the silliness of building a tent and suggest that she is “spoiled” balances out. She isn’t spoiled. In a year, she’ll choose whether to follow the tradition set by her sister and brothers and volunteer for the ambulance squad. In a few years after that, she will give two years of her life to serve the country in some way.
She will, God willing, marry and raise her children here. She is a lot of things and will be in her life. Perhaps she is a bit spoiled by materialism. On the other hand, I think she is well grounded by all the other things that influence the woman slowly developing deep inside the girl she is today.