Semi Nocturnal, Semi Diurnal

As you recall we had a forth child – Amitai. As time goes by it becomes more and more obvious that the theory about the fourth child being independent was conceived by people who never had any children. Either that or once again we’re doing everything the wrong way. The fourth child that we have takes care of himself given that he has the undivided attention of the rest of the family, otherwise he asks for it. As you might recall children have a method of requiring attention which is very similar to the one used by soccer players – lie on the floor, bang hands and feet on the ground and emit loud noises until the referee intervenes in your favor… All this would be fine given that the referee was really given a say in the matter. However, unlike soccer, where infants are concerned the referee is required to serve, not to proclaim a final ruling.

With these being the ground rules we’ve become familiar with a new form of life. The life of semi-nocturnal creatures. You might recall from biology lessons which most decent high schools provide, that the animal kingdom has many differentiating attributes which apply to its members. One of them being the hours in which the animal is primarily active. If these happen to be the night hours the creature is said to be nocturnal, and if not then it isn’t. So far its quite simple. They also taught us that the animals are either nocturnal or not. Nobody ever said a word about semi-nocturnal creatures. Well it could be that these are rare. It could be that they are only a subset of the rare group of white Caucasian, forth child male human beings, but they do exist. What distinguishes this sub species from the rest of the animal kingdom is that fact that its active during the daylight hours, and sits around at night to talk about it. Sleep, it appears is does not come naturally to these beings.

Sleep deprivation causes an animal to be irritable and hard to deal with. However since these creatures do not seem to need any sleep the deprivation effects are visible only on their close relatives. Only close relatives apply because these beings do not have distant relatives. As a matter of fact there are times when they come close to not having any relatives at all…

But, god almighty didn’t just create the fourth child as a one sided version of Job’s trial. There obviously is an upside to all this, otherwise all families would have only three children. It turns out that this ‘fourth child’ creature is extremely good natured (when not annoyed), is very friendly (if he likes the people), and loves to eat (regardless…). The latter alone would make the traditional Jewish mother forgive everything, however these days a little more is required. That’s where the additional characteristics make a difference. An example of a few simple cases is probably in order.

The time is eleven o’clockat night, his older siblings have been asleep for at least an hour, and the creature is sitting on the lap of his half conscious mother who has collapsed on the carpet, torn between maternal instincts and the desperate need of a non-nocturnal creature to sleep. ‘EH MOMO, DAM?’ the creature asks quietly. Which means ‘EIFO OSMO, NIRDAM?’ (where is OSMO, is he asleep?). OF COURSE HE IS YOU LITTLE . . . ! ! ! But then it hit’s you. The thing talks. It has intelligence, it responds and reacts and returns affection. It feels and loves and displays emotion. Why, its almost human – almost like ALF….

‘SUS, HED’ – ‘SUS MEFAHED’ which means I’m afraid of the horse. Well he’s still got some learning to do, it wasn’t a horse it was a deer (bambi), and the animal was much more afraid of him than he was of it. But then he does know how to say that he’s afraid. That is more than average for a child his age, and from a practical perspective it proves that he has weaknesses that could be exploited at moments of desperation (I’ll call the ‘shoter’ if you don’t go to sleep…).

He’s already tried two swimming lessons but hasn’t made much progress. Maybe next time we’ll try with an adult present… Well yes, what can we do, he fell into the hot tub twice and both times Gallia fished him out two seconds later. He was wet of course but after ten seconds of blinking resumed his merry composure. He also learnt his lesson. He’s the only child his age who doesn’t need an adult to chase him around the pool. He simply doesn’t want to go into the water. Of course one must be constantly on guard as he might change his views in an instant and decide to walk right in. But that would be his decision, not an accident. The kid knows exactly what he wants and that goes for stopping cars in the middle of the road as well…

In spite of the hardships (three other children and an aging husband) Gallia is doing a terrific job providing his basic necessities (two loafs of bread, a pound of yellow cheese and a gallon of milk) and engulfing him with love, like the rest of us. It really makes a difference. You actually see how much love these kids have for each other, even between Daniel and Amitai, in spite of the contention and all.

The fact that they love each other does not mean that the ‘shit-fall’ (as in water-fall) model does not apply in their every day interaction. The model simply states that the older child shits on the head of his/her closest sibling, and that applies all the way to the bottom of the shit ladder. The parents are left to collect it all in the diapers of their youngest offspring. Actually its a shit-cycle more than a shit fall. The parents believe that they have to take all the crap, this causes them all too often to ask the older child to share the unthinkable burden of say, setting the table (only of Friday, sometimes, please. . .). With her life in ruins the now poisoned older child has no alternative but to make her younger sister pay for her hardships, and the latter has no other choice … When it gets down to Amitai he can do nothing other than shit in his diaper which his parents (or should I say mother) must change and ask the oldest offspring to throw away…

Not counting her unavoidable contributions to the shit cycle Yeela continues to be a model child. Responsible, considerate, reliable, good natured and with what has already quite well established itself as an excellent sense a humor. Sadly there is a dark side to all this. The child likes school. In fact its so bad that we were forced to postpone our departure time for a trip to Yosemite until after school hours, much to the dismay of her younger sister, who is perfectly normal in that sense. In fact she’ll do everything to get out of school including playing sick five minutes before a spelling test, and miraculously recovering from the mysterious short term, recurrent disease which known as ‘educationoma’.

It tends to strike hardest at seven o’clockin the morning, but never on weekends or holidays. An attack never lasts beyond the current day’s school hours. It is unfortunate for the child that her mother used to come down with very similar attacks of the malady, and is quite familiar with its immediate remedies. ‘If you’re sick you can’t go to your Karate lesson…’. ‘Who said anything about sick?’. End of discussion.

Tal is constantly struggling for a few more drops of attention under the perceived shadow of her older sister whom she admires and pesters like a tick (alas the harsh laws of the shit-cycle). She will do anything to receive some positive attention from Yeela. This leaves the saint Yeela no other choice but to exploit her younger sister, thus allowing her to humiliate herself in front of her, making them both happy. Enter poor Osmo.. . Yes, it is his misfortune to enter just as Yeela is almost finished exorcising her sister of whatever dignity she has left. It is now his turn to bear his share of the portions of crap coming his way from a frustrated sandwiched sister.

Boy, oh boy how Tal loves to torture poor Osmo. He admires her like she admires Yeela but he fairs worse with her than she fairs with her older sister. This of no surprise. The younger they are the less subtle they are at dehumanizing their younger brothers/sisters. Tal doesn’t waste ant time about it either. One of the following will work immediately: ‘I’ll take you Power Ranger[1]‘, or “I’m taking your Power Ranger’, or ‘I took your Power Ranger…’. Poor Osmo, he has his Power Rangers stashed away somewhere, and she has no idea where they are, but he always falls for it (the powers of an older sister). What follows is might appear as a discussion when quoted on paper, however keep in mind that the written media is not capable of transferring sound and intonation. Osmo will say ‘You didn’t take my Power Ranger’. Tal will answer very sweetly ‘Yes I did’. In a more nervous voice Osmo will reiterate his contention, and Tal in an even sweeter (nevela) tone of voice will falsify it. With tears starting to swell in his eyes Osmo will cling ever more nervously to his supposedly stolen Power Ranger, and Tal almost ecstatic with pleasure will cling to her role. Finally with Osmo crying in helpless rage Tal will reach her Osmogasm.

At this point, more often then not (a threatening look from an adult helps), shell hug him, comfort him and tell him his Power Rangers have been secure all along (where ever they might be). That endless source of love that Galliaprovides them with makes it possible for them to draw the lines between games and reality in a surprisingly mature manner (only Amitai uses surprisingly mature manure). Deep down they’re very close and care very much about it other. Even Osmo who is only three and a half year old is distinctly more mature than most children his age. He often gets into trouble with the six and seven year olds who very easily mistake him for some under developed peer rather than a younger child that they would otherwise ignore.

With the crew reintroduced we can proceed to our trip to Yellowstone. That’s easy because we had to cancel it. It came at a bad time from my side, too much to do at work, so we tried to make it up to them by taking a shorter weekend trip to Yosemite,Actually the idea was for me to join some people who I swim with on their annual climb of the half dome. Naively I proposed that this be a family thing, and before I knew it everyone signed up to the anthropological expedition to see this family of SIX. You must realize that this is California in the last decade of the twentieth century. There are quite a few accepted communal forms of life here, none of which is a family of six. A few of the most common are:

  • Two males living together.
  • Two females. A lone female and a child.
  • A lone male and his beer bottles.
  • A male a female and a dog.
  • A male a female and a cat.
  • A male a female and a child the female has from a previous relationship.
  • A male a female a child and a white rat.

Yes, a white rat. Why? Because the white rat is perceived as an intelligent (all the psychology books use them) clean (all the medical experiments use them) animal that the child can learn from… Go tell them that the black rat is far more intelligent, that’s why it stays away from such families, even though it could eat the cat if it wanted too. Anyway, a stable marriages with multiple children is quite rare.

So they all drove up to Yosemite to see us. Shocked as they might have been they didn’t show it. They even knew that kids like marshmallows, and provided us with a bag that we were free to distribute amongst ourselves. Other than that they were totally dedicated to the task at hand, climbing the Half Dome, and more important, how the climb would benefit their looks. If the Half Dome didn’t exist they would have built one for sure. It’s really just half a mountain (where the other half went is a thought of great concern when sitting atop the remaining half), a huge slab of granite rock which for some reason or other many people want to climb. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve climbed mountains (small ones) in the past, but in most cases it was for the purpose of moving on to the other side of the mountain. This approach does not work for a mountain which is  known for not having another side. Here the goal was defined very clearly: start at the valley floor, climb to the top, turn around, descend to the valley floor. Hmm….

Logical or not, I did it, along with five more native Americans whom I swim  with on normal weekends. You must realize that this is what these people do. Their goal in life is to remain tanned and trim in spite of the relentless toll extracted by the ever advancing clock. This to them was not any kind of special weekend. It was part of the yearly workout schedule. After a combined six month program of running, swimming, cycling and roller blading they felt that a little hike in the woods would do them some good. That’s their part of the story. As for me, I only met these people by a sheer twist of fate, a coincidence, chance, nothing intentional. Why, did I have to go with them to climb that mountain? Climb, after years of not cycling, not running, not roller blading and swimming only on the weekends? The reason was that I had a reputation to live up too.

A few months back the pool was closed on a day and time which it was supposed to be open. As the civilized citizens that they are, they all gathered by the gate waiting for the life-guard, until yours truly came along. A pool, a 12 foot gate, a flat roof and a lamp post on the other side of the roof, what more could you ask for? It took me less than a minute to get inside, another minute or two to see that there was no spare key there and get out again. That’s when I started hearing whispers about the commando training I must have gone through. This mind you is a catch 22 situation. On one hand they saw me perform an impossible feat of heroism that any soccer fan performs every Saturday of the season (but then they don’t play soccer), on the other hand I can’t say anything about my military career. With the wheels of fantasy spinning slowly I was finally confronted with the ‘opportunity’ to join them for their annual Half Dome climb. Of course I could climb the 1500 meters with a few kilos of food and water on my back, I climbed the 3 meter fence didn’t I?

Well I’ll tell you. It was the most awful climb of my life. It’s like climbing the Massadah rock four times over. But I think that I managed to maintain our national heritage of tough and rough yet humorous and intelligent people. I actually surprised them when I suggested that in the future they change their route and actually attempt to see something new in the beautiful Yosemite park. A little basic math showed clearly that they would burn at least the same amount of calories, would not require a higher intake of cholesterol, and their LDH levels would most likely not be affected. The radical idea that one is able to walk from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ through point ‘c’ rather than always going from point ‘a’ to point ‘a’ through point ‘b’ won me a lot of points. At least I know that on the next hike I’ll be spared the agony of knowing that each step toward point ‘b’ only takes me farther and farther away from my initial/final destination.

As my drama on the mountain was unraveling Gallia was paying close attention to the mother-daughter relationship stories that one of the mothers lefts behind on the valley floor had to tell. Bored as she was, Galliadid pick up the heart of the problem. The heart of the conflict lies in the fact that the children’s grandmother (the mother-chewing-Gallia’s-ear-off mother ) ‘over cooks the Broccoli ! ! !’. And all along I thought that it’s always small and mundane issues that cause family tensions. As drained as I was when I got back to point ‘a’, I simply couldn’t let Gallia bare the Broccoli strain alone. We both felt compelled to analyze what we would do in a case where Ester over cooked the Broccoli. Fortunately we both have a very deep confidence in Ester’s ability to treat Broccoli appropriately, and concluded that should a situation arise where over cooked broccoli is involved we would seek professional help.

With the burden of over cooking laid to rest, dormant perhaps, but not an immediate threat I was able to care for my aching body. The first thing I did was to take off the shoes I had worn for the first time that day… Well almost first time. Had I walked with them long enough I would have surely noticed that they were a bit SMALL…

In the aftermath it seems that we just might have a few more local friends now. Of the Six adults who were there with us two are actually a married couple with two natural children. This rare phenomena later turned out to have a very good explanation. The pair is originally from New York and not from California. They do not have a TV set at home and they demand that their kids read and do homework, the freaks. We just might try to get to know them better, maybe we’ll be able to reduce Yella’s TV daily session. To this very day I cannot figure out how a child that sleeps 9 hours at night, spends 8 hours a day on school related issues, practices the piano for an hour, plays for 2, spends 2 hours eating and in front of the mirror, reads for an hour or two, still has time for television. Somehow she can always cram in these six hours in front of the tube.

Enough with the natives.The festive month of ‘Tishrei’ is almost behind us. The month that children love as much as parents hate. Attending the good Jewish institutions that they do, Daniel and Amitai spent most of the month at home extending the summer vacation which already had Galliadown to her last reserves of patience. As far as I’m concerned it’s more of the same, hide at work and you don’t know the difference. That would have been true if it hadn’t been for Yom-Kipur and Sucot. Yom-Kipur is never an easy day. You can look up my regular complaints in some previous letter. Sucot, however was another matter. This year I had both Osmo and Amitai helping me build the sucah. You somehow struggle through the brute force construction of the frame, but what happens when you try to cover it with bed sheets that they both want to keep lying on? Fortunately the principle that desperation yields ingenuity didn’t fail me. As I was in the middle of contemplating the use of soft child skin to cover the frame, it suddenly dawned on me that the sheet which they wouldn’t let me attach need not be attached at all. The new design incorporates side flaps (not walls) and can tolerate even three or four kids helping you. With that in mind next years holiday does not seem so ominous.

Building with the aid of your kids is one thing, but you cannot count on them to steal foliage for you. As you might recall from ‘Massechet Sucah’, you need to cover your construction with freshly collected foliage. Well that was the requirement before the global warming and the burning of the rain forests started. You don’t just find a tree that doesn’t belong to anyone anymore, at least not in America. Seeking help I turned to my neighbor Rabbi Yossef who was still busy cleaning the remains from his Yom-Kippur feasts. He agreed with me that it would not be prudent to walk up to a tree in broad daylight and strip it of its branches.

Thinking it over we came to the conclusion that where daylight and walking will not do, night-time creeping might. So we drove around Sunnyvale and Cupertino and Mountain View looking for the right set of trees in the right piece if darkness.Finally we found our objective and with the lights turned off we sneaked up on a clump of trees and hastily stuffed their lower branches into the car. Trembling with ecstasy generated by the knowledge that we would be able to fulfill the mitzvah to the letter, and by the understanding that if seen we would spend the rest of our miserable lives behind bars (trees are living things ! ! ! This is California), we drove back to complete or huts.

As usual we spent the holiday with three guests (Galliahas a big family). That’s nothing unusual. A few weeks earlier her husband’s friend Shaike and his wife and two boys stayed with us, and they were preceded by Danny and Puki and their two boys, and before that (or in between) we has her second cousin Of Ira, who visited in the heals of whoever it was. By the way how is Hanchu doing?..

Unlike Yom-Kippur (and Passover) there is one upside to Sucot. You get to eat in peace in the sucah while the kids turn the kitchen upside down. That they always do, but for one week every year you get to sit and eat quietly with the ants. If you can trick the kids into eating in the sucah then you really have it made. They don’t have walls to spread the peanut butter on, there’s no ceiling to stick the bubble gum to, and whatever falls on the ground is picked up by the insects who’ve been cleaning up after us ever since we disturbed their planet, (and will continue to do so long after we’re gone). By the way I read that they moved the beginning of man back another million years. They were getting to close to the missing link and the end of their funding.

Galliaand Amitai are putting each other to sleep. Osmo is done for the day. The girls will soon be asleep too. Time to sign off.

Gallia, Yeela, Tal, Daniel, Amitai, Yiftah (sherak yihiyu briim – HAMSSE).


[1] Power Ranger – A 1990s version of the GI JOE boys idol. It is a piece of plastic that exercises the child’s sense of possessiveness to its limits.