Anyone who has raised a child in Israel is familiar with the phrase, “Lo ba li”. It literally means, “Not coming to me,” in Hebrew and is like saying, “I don’t feel like it,” in English.
It’s often said after you’ve told your kids to tidy up their toys, go somewhere they don’t want to or, most commonly, about food they don’t like. “Lo ba li Abba”, is a phrase I’ve come to live with along with “Di, Abba”, meaning “Stop” or “Shut up, Dad.” Yep, Israeli kids kind of run the show.
Us adults, whether parents or teachers, try to take control but often fail and eventually give in to our children’s wishes. Because we love them. Because they’re the boss. Because lo ba li.
Before I became a Dad some eight years ago, I knew that bringing up kids in modern-day Israel would be different to my own childhood experiences in England. But nobody told me that I’d have to regularly deal with the three plagues – Kinim, Yitoshim & Tolaim (head lice, mosquitoes and threadworms).
Let me explain, as a kid in England I recall having head lice once and being sent home from school until it was treated. So, when my daughter got head lice at the age of two-and-a half, I was horrified. I immediately bought the best stainless-steel detector comb I could find and some special rosemary shampoo. When we returned to the gan (kindergarten) a couple of days later and told the kindergarten teacher about this terrible affliction, she simply laughed and said almost all the kids here deal with lice on a daily basis. Daily basis!
Little did I know that Israel’s hot and humid climate makes it a melting pot for spreading head lice. Over the years we found out that whenever we ‘dealt’ with the lice and finally got rid of them after days of screaming and combing at bath times, the little buggers returned a week later. Why? Because other parents didn’t see it as a problem and some were pretty lax about lice. I guess, when you’ve got Syria, Lebanon and Gaza on your doorstep, head lice is a pretty small problem.
Then the threadworms came. These disgusting microscopic white worms caused my daughter many sleepless and itchy nights. Like the lice, it’s pretty common for Israeli kids to have worms. They thrive in the heat and mostly affect kids that eat sweet food and play in the dirt (which is basically all they do at gan).
But my horror story doesn’t end there. On top of the head lice and worms, there’s no shortage of nasty mosquitoes. As I’ve found out, an innocent picnic in the playground with your kids can end up with some red ants feasting on your baby’s flesh.
That’s not to mention the evil-looking flying cockroaches, diseased street cats, territorial giant crows, and swarms of jellyfish that mean you can’t swim in the sea for most of the summer. I’m not going to mention the dog excrement everywhere in Tel Aviv that seems to attract curious children.
Basically, being a parent in Israel is not easy. You need to have eyes in the back of your head. You need to be an expert on medicine and know a bit about alternative herbal remedies too. And all this is without the added complication of Coronavirus, closing schools and managing your kid’s social calendar (a full-time job in 2020).
Aside from the self-entitled “Lo ba li” attitude instilled in kids from an early age, it seems that mother nature herself is out to get you. What makes it worse, is that I love spending time in nature. In fact, I often fantasize about bringing up my kids in the rural English countryside. I envisage some four-bedroom house with a huge garden, surrounded by green fields, woodland and a freshwater lake.
It’s my ‘Downton Abbey Abba’ moment.
Yes, I think to myself, we could be a self-sufficient family and grow our own lettuce and tomatoes, take long walks in the hills and find some isolated trees under which to while away an afternoon.
But then I remember my own childhood in a village in England, which was mostly enjoyable, but sometimes soul-crushingly boring. I begin to recall seamlessly endless days of drizzly rain, the dread of a harsh English school, depressing soap operas on TV, gangs of chavs (we used to call them Garys’ & Lees’) running through trains spitting chewing gum and the ominous threat of violence.
After a while, I convince myself that all the lice, mosquitoes and worms are worth it. Despite the hell it causes us parents in Israel – all the stress, endless trips to Superharm, and combing of lice every night – the kids themselves are generally happy. Most of their life is spent outdoors, playing with friends, going to the beach, eating Bamba or ice cream, and if something comes along to burst their bubble, they simply say “Lo ba li”.