Wednesday, October 2, 2013

That Alien Species Called Children

Children are something of a mystery to me. This is coming from a camp counselor of 3 summers. The more time I spend with them, the less I understand them. In a society that so highly values familial ties and generational continuity, such as Israel, one is expected to know about children. And not only to know what to do with them, but to actually like them. Especially as a female above the age of bat mitzvah.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not exactly the maternal type. I never had any younger siblings or cousins and admit freely that I know nothing about child rearing. As a teenager, I would get calls from young parents who were referred to me through friends, asking me if I wanted to babysit. I don't know why my friends referred me. Or why we stayed friends after that. Probably a mother gorilla would have done a better job than me as a child-minder. And after an unfortunate incident with a prank 911 call and a visit from the police, I stopped taking babysitting jobs if the children were conscious. I would only babysit if the kids were already asleep. Basically I was only there to fight off any would-be house burglars, or call the fire dept. if I smelled smoke. And frankly, I would rather attempt to fight off a burglar than be forced to entertain 6 year olds for 3 hours.
Here in Israel, people are even more trusting of strangers with their children. I was waiting in the Jerusalem bus station with my mother one day, waiting to get on the bus to Tel Aviv, and a woman shoved her baby into my hands and said, “hey, could you hold him for a moment?” while she folded up the stroller to put in the baggage compartment. I was holding the baby as if it was an explosive device, somewhat horrified, until my mother informed me that you have to support the head. I was like, “the head? Which side is that?!” It turns out I've been putting the diaper on the wrong side of the baby for 26 years. Just kidding- I don't do diapers.
Or, considering how ill behaved most Israeli children are, parents know that if their kids were ever kidnapped, an hour later the kidnapper would have crawled into the police station, bloody, broken and deranged, begging to give the them back. It's also entirely possible that some parents just wouldn't mind all that much.
Case in point: One day I was standing on the sidewalk minding my own business, when a 5 year old boy ran up to me, kicked me in the shins and ran off. I yelled, “hey! What was that for?!” as he ran away and his parents, who were standing right there not paying any attention whatsoever to their own offspring, turned to look at me as if I was off my rocker. Like I wasn't the victim in the story.
It always amazes me how much trouble kids can get into if you don't watch them every single second of the day. You turn your back to say hello to someone and when you turn around, the kid has ripped up a bunch of cardboard boxes and used them to start a forest fire. One day, I was watching a little Ethiopian kid running around with a plastic arm in his hands. His father found him, yelled “what are you doing?!”, found the mannequin that was minus one limb, stuck the arm behind it, looked around furtively, and then grabbed the kid's hand and hurried away. Another time, my mother and I were taking a shabbat walk, when we encountered a man reprimanding a bush. Obviously we stopped to watch, curious about any possible outcome of this conversation, when suddenly the man reached in and pulled out an 8 year old. That was the one thing we were not expecting. To this day, neither of us can figure out how he got in there.
A Moroccan jewelery once decided to “read my palm.” He informed me that I would have a long life and many children. I just gave him a look horror. He then offered to read my tea leaves, but I declined. He gave me a knowing look and said, “it's ok, many women are afraid of knowing their futures.” Well certainly, if it involves that many children.

I declare with out any shame whatsoever- I don't like children. And I've come up with a line of defense against being shown baby pictures. I keep photos of my cats on my phone, and if anyone pulls out pictures of their kids, or nieces and nephews, or cousins, etc., I pull out the pictures of my cats and say, “oh good! When you're done showing me pictures of your baby, I'll show you pictures of my cats!” They generally sidle away and mumble something about being busy, maybe later. Of course if they're cat lovers, I'm stuck.

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