Showing sentiment towards the opposite sex is a challenge for eleven years old boys. At such an age one is expected to prefer one’s masculine clan and shun girls without remorse. Relations between the sexes at this age is a perpetual game of hide and don’t seek. The girls chase after the boys without shame, and the boys pretend to ignore them completely.
At this age the girls have the initiative. They phone Tintin every day. They start after school and continue into the evening and well into the night. The record is held by a 2:30 AM phone call from a girl whom he swears he can’t stand, claims she is crazy, accuses her of demonic deeds and vows he will have nothing to do with her. In this case he is probably right. Most boys need another year or two before they allow themselves to respond to any such calls.
Knowing Tintin, I suspected he might be having trouble with being an exception to the rule. His sensitivities were getting the best of him. Clearly he cares what the other boys think of him; but is he flattered by the attention he got from (some of) the girls? Regardless, the cultural climate dictates that he remains single until more of his clan matures. Even if he wants to cut loose and stray from the pack, he is not yet equipped to deal with dilemmas on such a scale. This is not a problem of deciding between one TV show over the other. These are not matters of choosing chocolate over peanut butter or deciding what to wear this is about ambiguous emotions with social status hanging in the balance.
If I had my way I would have told Tintin that he should do what he wants. Ima put me in my place, making it clear that I did not understand the potential of being able to guide the love of youngsters. As far as Ima was concerned this was a golden opportunity to pick his wife to be while she still had a say in it.
To help Tintin choose the girl of her liking she started discussing some of the girls she had come to know from the longing voice messages they had left on the answering machine. For Imma this was a simple triaging process. First she helped him eliminate of those that neither he nor she liked. Next to be discarded were those whose mothers she did not like. Then went those that sounded domineering a clear sign that they would hate their mother in law. Finally she was left with a handful of choices, which she would have to screen more thoroughly. As things stand now, Ima is interviewing daughter-in-law prospects.
By the time Imma is done, Tintin will be in love thanks to natural causes…
Twins: I don’t know why I remember one particular topic which my twin sister and I argued about. We paid our dues to disagreements and head butting on a daily basis. The topics were as simple and as universal as could be: ‘He did it’, ‘she started’, ‘It’s your turn’, ‘and you said that you would if I did’, ‘I was reading that’, ‘No you were not’. There was no end to the pettiness and insignificance of it all. Every now and then we would push an adult over the edge and cause them to lose their composure. This would bring on a forced tie. We did not like forced ties. We would freeze our arguments in time, and thaw them instantly no sooner had the meddling adult left the scene. It was all so perfectly normal. All the bickering and haggling meant nothing and were forgotten as we matured past them. It is therefore strange that one such argument remained etched in memory: ‘Do twins complete their cycle of life together? Do they pass away at the same time?’ Why of all topics would one so obvious and trivial not be forgotten? Perhaps it is because to a twin that the question is not as simple as it seems.
אני לא יודע למה זה אני זוכר עניין מסוים אחד שאחותי התאומה ואני התווכחנו עליו. הלוא במחלוקות ובהתנגחויות עשינו את שלנו יפה יום–יום. נושאי המחלוקת היו פשוטים ואוניברסליים מאין כמוהם: “הוא עשה את זה“, “היא התחילה“, “תורך היום“, “אמרת שתעשה אם אני אעשה“, “אני קוראת את זה עכשיו“, “לא את לא קוראת את זה עכשיו” – דברים של מה בכך שאין כמוהם לקטנוניוּת. מפעם לפעם היינו מעמידים בניסיון את עצביו של מבוגר ומניעים אותו לאבד את שלוות רוחו. זה היה גורר תֵיקוּ כפוי. לא אהבנו תֵיקוּיִים כפויים. היינו מקפיאים את הריב במועד ומפשירים אותו מיד עם צאתו של המבוגר החטטן מן הזירה. הכול היה נורמלי לחלוטין. מכל ההתנצחות וההתמקחות הזאת לא נשאר כל רושם, והכול נשכח והלך ככל שגדלנו. לכן מוזר שמחלוקת אחת כזאת נשארה חרוטה בזיכרוני: האם תאומים משלימים את מעגל חייהם יחד? האם הם מתים בעת ובעונה אחת? למה זה דבר ברור וטריביאלי כל כך, דווקא הוא ולא אחר לא נשכח? אולי מפני שבעיניו של תאוֹם השאלה אינה פשוטה כמו שהיא לכאורה.
The Milkman: I don’t know why I remember the milkman. When I was a child he would arrive every Friday morning to collect his fees. I could hear him climbing to the door, stepping heavily on the stone stairs. His knock was as gentle as his footsteps. He was a heavy set man in his forties, with a red face and enormous hands with rough skin. The rest of him was hidden in a bluish-gray overall. His boots seemed as if they were designed to protect his foot should a truck run over it. ‘He could probably make a statue jump in pain if he kicked it with them’ I would think to myself. His facial features were exaggerated somewhat like a gargoyle’s. He lisped heavily and would look at his feet when he spoke, hiding his features, perhaps not to scare me when we stood at the door waiting for my father to pick up the conversation: ‘Vas Hertzach Rebbe Yitzhak’ (Yiddish for ‘how are you Rabbi Yitzhak’) my father would greet him. ‘Baruch Hashem, Hayim’ (Living, my god be praised) he would answer in Hebrew. As he spoke he would pull his accounting booklet from his pocket and proceed to tally what we owed. He used the inner refill of a pen which seemed more like a needle in his huge hand. He was either very good with numbers or my father didn’t mind paying a little extra. He would accept any denomination of bills and had no problems with change. In a little leather briefcase which hung from his neck, he carried a wad of bills as thick as a phone book, and his pockets were laden with coins. After the financial transaction was done, and our debt scratched from the booklet they would switch to world events, history or philosophy. ‘If Yitzhak could talk to my father about anything, why was he a milkman?’ I would wonder as he jingled with his coins back down the stairs. I don’t think anyone knew the answer.
Fly Catching: I don’t know why I remember my highest fly catching score. We would spend our summers at the public pool. We would go there every day, and stay for hours. There really weren’t a whole lot of new things to do in a public pool that you visited every day. You could only swim for so long; the diving board was always crowded, renting tubes cost money, mock fist fights in the shallows tended to taper off after a few minutes and the ping pong tables are occupied by bigger and stronger guys. At the beginning of the season we could allocate more time to tanning ourselves, shedding our pale winter skins and replacing them with hues of brown. The transition from pale to dark went through red. The first few days of tanning would be the worst. It would take years before people started calling red for the burn degree that it was. But at the time it was a degree of tanning, and we bore the pain with honor and stupidity. As we would lay there in the sun, scorching and flipping and scorching some more with nothing better to do, the flies would come to the not quite so ready carcasses. Someone proposed that we catch these flies, partially as a challenge and mostly to pass the time. And so it came to be that we would sit for hours in the sun, searing skins and catching flies. Contests were soon to follow. It is hard to imagine a less productive pass time, but it seems that those who participated remained friends to this day. Perhaps it was worth it after all.
Cigarette Filters: I don’t know why I remember my father’s theories about the effectiveness of his cigarette filter. Back then smoking was not only acceptable, it determined one’s social status. The professionals would inhale two or even three packs a day. People used more cigarettes than matches. There was always a lit cigarette available to light the next one. My father had some self substantiated theories about means to reduce the risk of smoking, from ‘pipes’ through ‘cigars’ to cigarettes with ‘filters’. ‘You see my son; the filter is what makes all the difference’. He would split filters open to layout scientific evidence right in front of my eyes. ‘Notice how much darker the forward side of the filter is?’ The hard scientific evidence fell quite a few inches short of making a convincing argument. Clearly there was a difference in color between the ‘bad’ and ‘good’ sides of the filter. The bad side was colored in shades of brown; however the ‘good’ side was not a picture of health either.
My father was not the kind of man who would mislead me with a false pretence that those two centimeters of porous material effectively guarded his lungs; clearly there was more work to be done at the ‘good’ end of the filter. So my father used another filter. It looked like an ordinary cigarette holder, like the kind a lady would use, only shorter so a man could use it. This filter, according to him was a marvel of physics. It was not just a plastic tube, oh no. It contained specially crafted inner metal tubing which forced the smoke in an out of tiny holes and chambers. ‘It was these forceful changes in the direction of the flow of smoke’ he would tell me radiating with a sense of conviction, ‘that causes the tar particles to be trapped in the filter’. ‘All I need to do is clean it every now and then’. To this day I am sure that the best thing the filter did for my father, was that he did not smoke while he was cleaning it.
Wedding: I don’t know why I remember my uncle’s wedding. We were his only nephews and what a better opportunity for my grandmother to send a message as subtle as the morning sun to her son that she expected nothing less from him. Given that I was only four years old at the time, the odds that I would enjoy the wedding were stacked against me. Being so young also made me too short to ‘mingle’. A crowded hall full of adults to a child my size was a collection of knees and waistlines. A world of absolute anonymity comprised of dark pants and colored dresses rubbing against my face. All I could do in this wasteland of garments was forage for food. Long tables with white table cloths were aligned along the walls of the wedding hall. I knew they were table cloths because no woman could have been that fat. To my dismay I quickly found out that attempting to get something from the tables meant having my nose bashed against a sharp edge by some unaware full sized behemoth, picking on people his own size for the right to clench the goods from the tables. When it was all over, and we were on the way home in the taxi, my grandmother handed me three miniature cakes the size of large candies, coated with icing and filled with cream. Three out of hundreds which I was forced to abandon – It only added insult to injury. Had I known this was not to be my uncle’s last wedding I would not have bothered to come.
Kids, we have a few things to tell you about growing up.
Babies are not yet children like you. They are surprisingly resilient, but that’s not for you to prove. Support a baby’s head when you hold it. Let it breathe when you feed it from a bottle. Pink is a healthy color, blue is not. When done feeding, hold the baby up against you with its head over your shoulder; cover the shoulder with a clean cloth. There is no need to tap the baby’s back. The baby will burp without help, but you can tap if makes you feel better. Boys’ diapers have to be changed more often than girls’ your mother doesn’t think so but she isn’t a boy. Always check the bath-water temperature with your hand, the Spanish Inquisition circulated the notion that the elbow is a better thermometer.
Learning to read is easy. You do not have to read a book from start to finish in one day. You can continue where you left off without having to go back to the beginning. You learn to write by reading. ‘Ko okaburra’ is spelled with a double ‘o’ and a double ‘r’, twice the number you find in ‘Aborigine.’ ‘Humpback Whales’ sift water through ‘baleen’ and feed on ‘plankton.’ A teacher that chooses these words for a first grade spelling test is as dumb as bird but it is not wise to tell her that. Until you graduate, bad teachers will be the bane of your existence. Unfortunately they are not as rare as Kookaburras. These teachers do everything in their power to add you to the people who do not understand the subject matter. Therefore if you find long division confusing rest assured that so does the math teacher; ask us.
Do remember that fish have bones, be careful when you eat them, roll each bite in your mouth, let your tongue feel the spikes and remove them gently with your fingers. Breaking an egg with one hand is possible but it can take quite a few eggs to master. Remove the broken eggshells from the bowl before adding the eggs to the batter. Chew with your mouth closed and your ears open. If you can hear your own chewing so can everyone else. Asking them too many questions while they are trying to eat can starve a polite person. Knifes go on the right, forks on the left. Mold is good for antibiotics, not for serving food – check that the silverware is clean before you set it on the table.
Every now and then stop to reflect on who you are, where you came from and where you are headed. Your Bar-Mitvah is such a checkpoint in your lives. At the time it used to be the right of passage from childhood to adolescence nowadays you get an extension of six to twelve years, but listen anyway. As you grow up you have to make more independent choices. How do you know what the right choices are? You all have the gift to be able to distinguish right from wrong so do what you think is right. Every once in a while you will make mistakes, but you will learn to correct them. Many of your teenage friends do not yet have such a keen ability, some will never h a ve. When torn between doing what is right and doing what is popular – follow your conscience even if it scares you. Keep an open mind; accept that other people are entitled to opinions and beliefs that are different than yours. Learn where to draw the line; when to stand firm and when to back down. Tolerance and the right to defend yourself go hand in hand. Be tolerant but know that the other side is wrong when its beliefs aim to deprive you of the same rights that you extend to them. Learning is the key to making the right decisions and becoming successful. Make the best of the opportunities at school; not withstanding that some teachers are complete idiots. Learn as many languages as you can there is no better tool to get to know people and come to understand them. Learn to play a third instrument.
Not everything that shines is a gem. Save your money for things that are better rather than newer. Shakespeare and Plato are forever getting older, as are the works or Rembrandt and M o za rt and Picasso and Bach. ‘Pop-Culture’ is an oxymoron it has presence without essence like the ‘Spice Girls’. A new iPod is the same as your old one with ever more memory that you will never use. If you were born in the nineties you are exempt from knowing what ‘counter-clockwise’ means.
GPSs cannot find lost children. When on night marches, count the children in your Scouts troop frequently. Cover the top of your shoes with your socks when you sleep outside and shake them well before putting them on in the morning. You cannot see stars when you are in the woods. Counseling in a youth movement is the most challenging form of leadership you will ever experience. You have all the responsibilities of an adult with no sanctions to apply. Remember how you won the trust of younger adolescents. It will serve you well later in life. Put your military experiences in perspe ctive: people obey orders but work much better without them. Any monkey with a rank can give commands, but it takes a great leader to nurture creativity and rally people to a cause.
Life is long. Do not rush into marriage it is the biggest commitment you will ever make by choice. One out of twenty or fifty or one hundred people will be right for you – experiment until you find such a person. Take your time, it is better to throw away a few good apples then eat a rotten one. Walk away from cruelty and selfishness these cannot be cured. Intelligence counts – unless you want to be bored stiff for the rest of your life. Opposites can match if they are generous and kind. Disagreements are not always bad. Harmony exists only in fairy tales. A wise man once said: If you see a couple living in harmony like a pair of doves know that one of them is suffering quietly. Argue but listen. Apologize when wrong but learn from mistrakes. Use contraceptives – expecting a child to be born rich is not sound financial planning.
These are building blocks. How you use these blocks to build your life is up t o you. A parent’s love and selflessness is granted so use it. Do not hesitate to ask for help or advice. Your heart, your common sense, your family, your education and childhood friends are your greatest assets as you face life. Embrace them all and live it to its fullest.