The summer vacation began right after Gallia had undergone a disk fusion operation. Yeela graduated from high school, completing a three-year program and flew with British Airways to Israel a day later, her suitcase was damaged, she didn’t get a new suitcase from the airline, Ima (mother) is very mad at her and at the airline. Ima is spending hours on end on the phone trying to make the best of a situation that isn’t all that bad to begin with. AT&T has dedicated a direct line to the offices of British Airways to accommodate for all she has to say to that airline. The Airline has assigned a special spokes-person to deal one-on-one with the crisis, and there is no end in sight. Seeing how the suitcase thing is developing it will be well into the year 2010 before the crisis is behind us, so the time is right to talk about all the other small things that would otherwise dissipate in a fog of forgetfulness and that would be kind of sad.

The boys in the family went from one more year of vacation at their public elementary schools to vacation at home. Amita’s friend Yonatan is filling the third-boy-fifth-child position these days and is complemented by ‘Ella’ who is playing a similar ‘third-girt-sixth-child’ role. They are all dealing with the crisis by means of distraction in the forms of movies and theme parks including ‘Great America’, ‘Raging Waters’ and there is some ‘want-to-sound-like-French-cheese’ named park with gardens and a goat to pet that also qualified. The good news is that Ima is in charge of all these activities and until AT&T supplies her with a direct satellite link to British Airways, she too is forced to stop the suitcase crusades for the duration of the kid’s activities.

The suitcase crusade is a blessing in disguise. The resulting over-the-phone-hostilities are good for Ima and are speeding her recovery from the herniated-disk-removal operation. If you stop to think about it, it’s an operation during which the head is temporarily severed from the body while some piece of the spine called a disk (which is apparently damaged) is replaced with an artificial disk made of synthetic bone, and that is one hell of a trauma to recover from. It turned out for the best that she spends so much time on the phone. The length of the earpiece and the way one holds it between the head and the shoulder when attempting to find a pen and paper is a wonderful neck exercise. The best results are achieved when a second phone rings and she has to hold two earpieces with her head. The exercise requires massive neck muscle contraction, which better tighten the head and the spinal stem that was left attached to it back to the base of the neck and the rest of the spinal cord. Who cares how many hours are spent on the phone? I much rather see phones off the hook than Ima’s head hanging limply off her shoulders and all the talking helps her recover her voice (something about the after affects of the neck being cut in half on the vocal cords and the wind pipe).

To be on the safe side the doctor prescribed a soft neck brace that she needs to wear for the duration of the summer. Ima is learning to make the best of the brace and has already attributed some remarkable achievements to it. There’s a lot of minor stuff like stepping up to the front of the line (‘I’m sorry, my head is tilted so high I can’t see the line’) and driving cars off the road (‘I really am sorry, I can not turn my head’-‘Don’t I know you from the line in the bank?’). But all that has been dwarfed by her performance at the San Francisco< opera when she took Tal to see ‘La-Traviata’. There they were with their discount tickets (for which they paid $7 each) sitting in row 672 some 300 yards above the opera floor, staring into the abyss and trying to imagine where the stage might be. ‘I think it’s those tiny lights in the distance,” said Tal. ‘Let’s go there then’ said Ima. ‘But Ima, that’s where the people with $140 tickets sit’. To no avail, Ima was already on her way and Tal followed. When they got near the stage one of the attendants immediately recognized Ima in her ‘Queen Victoria’ collar as the understudy who must sit up close in case the performing singer loses her voice. ‘Follow me ma’am’ he said and led them right into the middle of the orchestra, Row 10. ‘Thank you’ shouted / rasped Ima in whatever was left of her voice. The attendant thanked her for whispering and left them to enjoy the show. So there they were, 662 rows closer and 295 yards lower with a terrific view of the show. In the process they had saved $266 all for a $5 dollar makeup collar. I don’t think Ima will ever walk out the door without that collar again.

Tal completed her freshman year in high school, and started running a summer day camp for two-dozen kids. Tal ran the camp – as asocial service with the noble intent of transferring funds from the parents of the children who attend to Tal’s possession and safekeeping. As such it is sufficient to bring the kids in for a few hours each day and send them back home as soon as possible. So the camp was advertised as running from 09:00 in the morning to 03:30 in the afternoon, at which time the parents would be expected to remove their children form our house and take them to their house. It’s quite a simple and fair concept. However in the context of summer day camp it tends to aggravates a fundamental conflict between the parents’ intent to have some freedom from their kids and the camp’s directors intent to have a life of their own alongside the responsibility of running the camp.

The first day turned out to be longer and harder than expected. Personally I marvel the fact that two-dozen kids between the ages of four and eight can be kept busy for fifteen minutes let alone seven and a half hours. It has to be one of the most difficult acts of diplomacy, ingenuity, cajoling, deception (I said diplomacy) and self-control that a person can perform. As a father of four with two adjuncts I know that I couldn’t have done it.As it turned out, after the children had been removed by their parents, Tal and her co-COO (co-chief-operations-officer) had to spend another hour returning the house to something the dog was willing to enter, and thirty minutes after that to make it acceptable for human occupation again. The only spot they did not have to worry about was Ima’s nerve center for the suitcase operation, because Ima was there all day flexing her neck muscles and voice and no kid dared venture near her.

My own involvement with the camp was pick-up-the-garbage detail– for I had been assigned to pick up whatever garbage Tal and her co-COO (co-chief-operations-officer) wouldn’t bother with. After a few rounds to the garbage bins I mutinied and got a lot of support from Osmo, who felt that being paid $0.80 a day was not a whole lot for helping run things, cleaning up after the kids had gone and picking up the dog’s poop. Tintin, who was promised a quarter a day (as in five nickels) wasn’t sure just how screwed he was, but, never one to turn down a chance to mention his overall beleaguered life, he huffed and he puffed and until he too made a clear if not verbal case for his being part of the exploited workers.

Our moaning male triage convinced Tal that something must be done. Her good heart and her Don’t-Push-Bushy inner voice made her pick up a broom. Peer pressure convinced her co-COO (co-chief-operations-officer) to pitch in as well. But I knew that making Tal and the co-COO cleanup would leave them with the bitter taste of what it really takes to make an honest living and I didn’t want to hurt them that bad at their age. And so, to sugarcoat their embarrassment,. I proposed that in the coming days, the need for ‘basic sanitary and cleanliness’ be cited as a reason for parents to pick up their whiny, noisy, spoiled, filthy, snotty children half an hour early. That way, Tal and her co-COO could clean up the place and get it ready for the next day, leave Osmo and Tintin and myself out of it and not feel that they themselves were working much too hard for the money they were making.

On the second day of the camp Tal suggested that the kids be picked up an hour earlier. The majority of the parents agreed immediately. This could have been expected given that knowing their children; most people could easily imagine what it takes to keep their brat content in the lenient atmosphere of a day camp, and how much filth their offspring could leave in a place when allowed so many hours of activity. All, except for a pair of mothers that somehow always happen to be there and always have to fight for eternal justice when it is not being violated to begin with. Well these two decided that they should get their money’s worth — namely that Tal and her helper are obligated for a full day and the hour of cleaning was not their problem. As an expression of their discontent with the scheduling chaos they had witnessed, they began taking their own children home two hours earlier. If you are as confused as I am don’t be alarmed, some minds are sharper than others, and these two mothers have us all outsmarted. Let me share with you the way I see this: that’s two kids that leave one hour before all the others who leave an hour earlier I guess some people just need to be heard and ignored. All one has to do is give up the satisfaction of letting them know that the end result of their rebellious actions was directly aligned with the cause they were fighting against. Put another way ‘when surrounded by idiots agree with them all and do what you had in mind’.

When camp finally ended, Tal’s room had a new wall-to-wall carpet – green and aromatic (it smelled very much like my wallet on the first Monday of each month, only stronger – much stronger) and flecked liberally with the faces of American presidents. I noticed few Washingtons and fewer Lincolns; Jackson reigned supreme.”Makes sense,” I thought. “He was the best-looking man of them all, also one of the brightest intellectuals to form this model democracy.”

Osmo and Tintin were gloating over their share of the spoils which were comprised solely of one dollar bills:

– “Tintin, how many you got? I got ten!!!”

– “Osmo, that’s nothing, I also have three!

– “Let’s count again”

– “Good idea! How many you got, Osmo?”

– “Ten!”

– “Me too, three!!”

– “We love you Tal!”

– “Thank you Ima!”

– “Love you dad!”

– “Can we go camping now?”

– “Yes.”

Tal flew to Israel the next day with British Airways to brag about her success.

While Tal had put the camp behind her, I was left with the responsibility of making sure that the underlying social fabric of our modest town had not been too severely rattled by the scheduling events that took place during the first two days of her camp. After all as adults we have social responsibilities that last. Well, it turns out the discontented pair of mothers had their reasons. Not only do they coach kids to do the opposite of what is required at day camp they also coach adults on camping. They have a program where they lead six, seven or eight families into the wilderness and stay with them there for two or three days. Supreme bon vivants that they were, the pair had redefined ‘wilderness’ as ‘like-home-but-away-from-home’ (LHBAFH). ‘Funny’, I thought to myself, ‘I thought ‘Some of our kids friends have an improved version of this concept’, ‘They live at our home away from home and seem to able to go on indefinitely’. But this was not the time for criticism, if I wanted to mend the social fabric I would have to show good will and join one of these expeditions, one of which happened to take place on the eve of Tal’s flight to Israel. I decided that participating with the boys in this revolutionary camping experience would clear the atmosphere and weave the fabric of unity ever stronger.

And so it was that the boys and I were to be initiated into the LHBAFH Experience. Come Friday noon / afternoon – this would give them the 3-4 hours of daylight they require for putting up camp) we loaded the car with everything we could possibly think of as needed for 2 days of camping: a tent, sleeping bags, extra blankets, those funny role up mattresses, a flashlight, extra food, water, CD players for the kids, a book, bathing suites, the garden deck chair that served us so well indoors. What else could one possibly take? We set out for the rendezvous. Little did I know how much we had left behind…

The pair always start their camping trips at the ‘Star bucks’ cafe at the corner of Homestead and Hollenbeck (two streets in our modest town). ‘This is your last chance to feel civilization so use it’ they said. ‘Little do they know what we have in our car’ I winked at the boys. Two hours later I would hope that nobody had seen or heard that gesture. After every one had their triple-double-not-venti-not-grande-caramell-mocca-dry-capuccino-with half the mix-and the other half low fat milk-cream-double shot’ (coffee) we set out to CASA DE FRUITA, a really fancy way-station an hours drive from San-Jose on the way to Los Angeles. South on 101, past Gilroy and then East past the Garlic fields on that narrow road that widens at an intersection coming out of the hills and there is a small mall with a gas station on the right? Well that is ‘Casa de Fruita’ and it also has a pool and camping grounds with running water and electricity next to each parking site. It’s very much like an RV park, but wilderness-minded, we decided to put up the tent near our car and the pool. Very much like the condo we used to live in only now we had a tent, which was somewhat smaller than the apartment, I’m talking about.

The rest of the tents were not

I thought we brought everything. Well I’ll tell you, we brought nothing, we were practically shipwrecked compared to the other families. We had our tent up in five minutes and then sat and waited for three hours while the rest of the settlement in the wilderness materialized out of trunks and crates and massive bundles that came off roof racks.

The first thing that I noticed was that the people were scoping out the terrain, measuring distances and planning what seemed to be the layout of plots. ‘What kind of stupid ritual is that?’ ‘It’s a flat grass field and you put your tents on the grass and spread them out so that there is room for everyone, right?’ Seeing that this could turn out to be a major embarrassment for the boys and myself, the more tolerant of the families motioned me to be patient and keep quite.

First came out those huge blue plastic woven canvases and they were spread on the ground so that they covered the area under the trees with minimal overlap between the canvases. ‘Oh so now they are being territorial’ I said to myself. That’s nice, probably getting back to the roots of primordial bonding’, ‘you cannot urinate to mark your territory these days, so you put down a canvas, how fascinating’.What troubled me a bit was the fact that each family has spread a canvas half the size of a basketball court. ‘We’re the family of eight, and I would never dream of requiring so much empty space when I’m in the wilderness’ I thought to myself.

The canvases were the bases for the tents that followed. Now I am using the word tent the same way I described our tent but in reality these were TENTS and we had a tent. As the behemoths began to rise they had multiple rooms, a porch, storage areas, you name it. Then it was time to furnish theTENTS. Before my incredulous eyes, tables and chairs and armchairs went rapidly down the gaping vinyl maws, along with floodlights ‘It gets dark at night,’ some one explained but it didn’t really register. I was fascinated by what I was seeing: coffee machines, iceboxes, gas cookers, charcoal barbecues (needed only for the effect), electric pumps and inflatable double mattresses and even a satellite dish for a TV that someone had remembered to bring along.

If I could work through the initial embarrassment I knew we would be just fine. ‘We were busy helping Tal pack (your money away) so we came only with what I had in the car’ I said sheepishly to anyone who seemed to notice that we were even there. ‘Its OK Yiftah’ said the two mothers; ‘we’ll help you just like we helped Tal’. ‘We kind of suspected that you wouldn’t be organized for camp’ So they had their say, and I had my humiliation and was accepted into the warm and cuddly family of wilderness goers. The boys were obviously accepted by the families (maternal thing) and did not really seem to notice that they had been reduced to living in the slums of Casa de Fruita. ‘If only Gallia were here with her Victorian Collar I’m sure some of those families would have taken her and the boys inand provided them with front row camping experiences’

By nightfall the camp was up, fully lit and the barbecues were busy. The feeding frenzy lasted four hours, tapering off every now and then as people would wonder into the night to try to shake the impossible amounts of food into more accommodating sections of their bellies. At one o’clock the next morning the parents, groggy from a day of hard labor decided that it was time to call it a day and started milling into their luxurious dwellings. The boys were up and romping around with the rest of the kids. The phenomena that followed convinced me that its not for nothing that we are a family of eight and likely to keep growing.

As the grownups were milling into their tents the children were flocking closer and closer to Osmo and Tintin. I could hear it from every tent ‘If you want to stay up that’s fine, but do it in someone else’s tent’. And the kids would go out of their tent and walk further into the darkness towards the next tent. Finally there were no more tents. Except ours ‘Why don’t you guys come into our tent? We don’t have electricity so we can use our flashlights and there’s just enough room for everyone’ Osmo offered. The unanimous ‘Cool!’ was heart warming, and they plunged happily into the tent, which was just the right size, and just the right atmosphere and kept everyone happy. The very meager belongings, which we had brought along, turned out to be just what the kids wanted.

After two days I was getting Ima-sick so we put the tent in the trunk and drove home happily. On the way I was thinking to myself: ‘First we have them by the dozens at home, and every one is happy’, ‘then we have them by the dozen in the wilderness and everyone is happy’, I decided to make sure that I don’t mention this to anyone else the fabric might be disturbed again.

By the time we got home Tal had arrived in Israel. Her suitcase was damaged; she didn’t get a new suitcase from the airline Ima was working on her rehabilitation program with AT&T and British Airways again. She also allowed herself to start going after the flies, which come to visit every summer.’BANG’, ‘I hate them!!!!’ ‘Who the guests?’, ‘no the flies’. ‘BANG’, the dog was chewing at her hindquarters vigorously and Tintin and Osmo would not go into a civilized bathroom because it had a bug in it. ‘This is what they learn from the wilderness?’ but then I guess we did have less bugs there So Ima finally called in another Ray, this time to fumigate the house and I took the dog to the vet who finally found flees on her.

Believe me I was actually happy that he found flees. These we know how to handle. So the house was fumigated and the dog got a flee bath in the yard and a flee treatment the next day, and I ASKED Tintin to stop walking through the net as though it were a curtain so that we could keep the hole just big enough for the dog to walk through. Now all we have is flies, and since Ima is feeling so much better she can actually chase then herself. ‘SMACK’, that was close. ‘Did I get it?’ ‘I think you missed, why don’t you try with your collar?’.

Love you, miss you, enjoy your stays and come home soon, we have plenty of room.