Friday, July 15, 2011

Ayelet on Tour

 As a tourist, it is difficult to escape spending a certain amount of time actually on tour. While instructive and orienting to the average adult, tours can be quite the opposite to the average two-year-old, who seems to learn best through a seemingly random exploration of the territory around her, without much regard to spatial or chronological order. Here are some of our experiences taking Ayelet on tour:

Caesaria: I had envisioned Ayelet scrambling happily amidst the ruins, following in the footsteps of Romans and Crusaders of yore. What I had neglected in my imaginings was that these ruins are not exactly child-proof and thus, considering the distinct possibility of tumbling down stone cliffs, not the ideal stomping ground for a two-year-old.

We decided the tourist center might be a safer (did I mention air-conditioned?) bet, and ended up in a lecture/video presentation on the legendary building of Caesaria.

Ayelet happens to be a big fan of videos. In fact, her favorite word just might be “DVD.” The problem is that in her vocabulary “DVD” is reserved exclusively for usage with DVDs of Sesame Street (or, as Ayelet refers to it as a baby-in-the-know, simply “Street”).

Never mind; we viewed this not as a problem but rather as an opportunity. “DVD!” we enticed Ayelet, “Do you want to watch a DVD?!”

The ruse worked, for approximately 5 minutes, during which she waited in anticipation for her favorite fuzzy friends to materialize. When presented instead with diagrams of port construction, she began questioning, “Ernie? Elmo??” and then lost interest entirely. Lesson of the day: Apparently historical thrillers don’t make the “DVD” cut.

Zichron Ya’akov: We had the treat of being led on a wine, beer, and dairy tour by Esther Cohen of The finer points of wine-making – which my husband now thoroughly enjoys touting to our Shabbat guests – might be a little lost on a two-year-old. In fact, from her perspective a lot of the processes we went over must seem a little opaque, even for products she enjoys. For instance, we looked at some cheese; then we looked at some cows. Connection? Unclear.

“Moo!” she said. That much she knows cold.

I can’t wait until she hits the science fair stage.

In the meantime, there were some unexpected occurrences, even for those of us familiar with the ways of the world. The dairy was hopping, and apparently not just because people like cheese. There was some kind of festival going on, and… President Shimon Peres?! Check (off the item in the itinerary: See random famous person).

We went on to a lovely lunch and wine tasting under grape vines at the Tishbi Winery. Lunch: now there’s something we all can relate to.

Tirat Tzvi: We spent Shavuot at Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi, a religious kibbutz near Beit She’an. While enchanted by beautiful views of Jordan in the distance, where we were was currently hot! And extra-buggy. This made more sense when we figured out that the land used to be entirely swamp, the religious kibbutzniks not having been allotted the most choice of the properties available (Tirat Tzvi is one of several religious kibbutzim in the area).

See, history can shed light on the present! I tried to explain to Ayelet. She wrinkled up her nose at the bugs and looked hot.

We took a walking tour of the kibbutz led by an old-timer who was born there in the early days. We learned the story behind the tower (the Tirah) and saw the room with the hidden weapons cache where school groups now come.

However, I personally spent much of the tour chasing after Ayelet, who had some questions, but mostly relating to why she was being asked to sit in the stroller for so long and where was the best place to run around wildly and evade one’s Ima.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ayelet and the Animals

Ayelet loves animals. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. I’m not really sure, honestly, why a girl growing up in the suburbs has to be drilled on “What does a cow say?” “What does a goat say?” But she has a whole barnyard of these animal sounds down to rival any farmgirl (except when she’s presented with an animal whose sound is outside her area of expertise, say a camel, in which case she’ll take the educated guess of either ‘woof’ or ‘quack’). She even has books teaching her more exotic animals that she certainly wouldn’t encounter in New Jersey, lions and tigers and bears and the like, and an iPad app that schools her, “This is the sound a zebra makes: ‘woot woot woot! woot woot woot!’”

Our principle of animal ed is strongly affirmed by Israeli theories of child entertainment, which seem to suggest: if in doubt as to whether a place of attraction will be attractive enough to a child, you can’t go wrong with a couple of farm animals. Ein Zivan’s fruit picking fields have an adjacent petting zoo. Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi has a petting zoo – not just for farm animals, mind you, which might be logical on a farm, but owls and peacocks and other exotic birds labeled in Hebrew. Continuing with the bird theme, the Israeli Air Force Museum in Be’er Sheva has a formidable collection of squawking wonders, with the tenuous connection that airplane designers have learned much from these expert fliers – which doesn’t really explain the ostriches.

The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo is definitely the place to go if you’re actually on an animal hunt from the get-go. It’s got satisfyingly humungous brown elephants, exotic monkeys, even some woot-woot-woot zebras.  How did Ayelet react?

“Zebra,” she said, pointing definitively.

Then, she turned around and walked away. Clearly, when you make a zebra a household item, it gets treated as one.

Ayelet was more captivated by the goats in the petting zoo. In Israel, it seems a “zoo” is a place where the animals are enclosed and the people are outside, whereas a “petting zoo” is a place where the people go in and roam about with the animals. Ayelet has been trained by my mother, who has a dog, to do “nice to Gloria” patting her gingerly on the side. So Ayelet felt compelled to go up to every single goat, pat it and say “niiice…” and then move on to the next one. Until the goats started nibbling on her dress. Then she started crying and held up her hands to be lifted out of the enclosed area.

On the Alpaca Farm in Mitzpe Ramon, I was given a bag of food to feed the alpacas. Actually it ended up only going to one alpaca, who almost knocked me over with his persistence and appetite. “This guy is really hungry,” I hinted at the staff.

“Oh, he’s always like that,” they told me.

While I had meant to give Ayelet a turn at the feeding – she loves feeding people and Gloria the dog significantly more than feeding herself – I was too busy keeping the hungry alpaca at bay to delegate. They offered to allow Ayelet to participate by riding a llama. But, given Ayelet’s not-too-stellar and rather squirmy performance riding in my lap on the plane, I thought I’d better decline.

Touching, handling, or being in close proximity to livestock? I think Ayelet would answer the US Customs form: ‘woot woot woot! woot woot woot!’

Playgrounds of Israel

When my husband, who left Israel at age 5, gave me a tour of his hometown Holon, it was comprised mostly of where he used to frequent: the playgrounds in the area. If you ask Ayelet to detail this trip, I speculate her review would consist largely of playgrounds as well.

With a child in tote, it suddenly enters your consciousness how very many playgrounds you pass, and in the most unpredictable places – mostly because you feel a little tug on your arm, which means that your route is about to be detoured for a while. Here are some highlights of the playgrounds of Israel:

  1. Ayelet Has No Pity on Babies: In a Jerusalem playground in Katamon, Ayelet encountered Shoham, who at the tender age of 1 was content rolling around in the sand, waving his fat little legs in the air. But not Ayelet – she immediately seized upon a pail and shovel his babysitter had brought.

    As soon as she had made herself busy with it, Shoham wiggled over and started crying pitifully. Alas, Ayelet continued industriously. And then I uttered that troublesome word: “Share!”

    Now, a note on Ayelet and sharing. Ayelet understands perfectly well what “share” means. In fact, she has been known to go over to kids with toys or food she wants and demand, “Share!” However, her enthusiasm for sharing entirely diminishes when she’s on the other side of the pail and shovel.

    I somehow pried the items from Ayelet’s grasp and delivered them to the baby, who immediately quieted down just as Ayelet started screaming her head off. Then the babysitter persuaded Shoham to give up the toys, and he started crying while Ayelet started shoveling. And so it went, alternating playing and crying, until we had to go.

    If anyone has advice on teaching sharing, I’d appreciate if they… shared… Also if anyone has another pail and shovel.
  1. Girls Have No Pity on Ayelet: In a beautiful and very crowded playground at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, Ayelet had barely marched onto the scene when a group of Israeli 7-year-old girls fell in love with her. That sounds nice, but in reality it meant that they picked her up and carted her away into a swarming blur of children on the move. I darted under bridges and over slides after them, trying in vain to think of words, in either Hebrew or English, that might be able to communicate my sentiments. Finally I caught up. The girls were alternatively carrying her around, giving her kisses, and pushing her down slides while she made mild complaining noises and generally looked confused. I chased after them a bit, and then tried explaining to the girls that Ayelet really, really had to go, while they looked confused and made mild complaining noises.
  1. Playing with Danger: Ayelet found a children-oriented oasis in the desert, in the form of a playground on Kibbutz Ein Gedi. But as she played happily on it, we began to notice troubles in paradise: protruding screws, rust and splinters, and… missing planks in walkways? Then we noticed a sign: “This playground has been inspected and found to be NOT SAFE!” We whisked Ayelet away quicker than we could contemplate what a condemned playground was doing in the middle of an otherwise not-too-shabby kibbutz where it could still bait innocent children, or to realize that perhaps that was why there were in fact no other children to be found there.

    Far away in the Golan, on a Shabbat when Ayelet was feeling a little too restless to stay in the synagogue (let’s be honest, that’s every Shabbat), a local recommended a nearby playground for distraction. But Ayelet was more interested in some nearby attractions: two pretend cars and a swing. I was relieved that finally something was holding her attention – until some boys came over and started whining to me and gesturing wildly at some signs, which I previously hadn’t noticed, appended to the play equipment in question.

    From what I could gather, it was not OK, forbidden, in fact, to play on that equipment. But with my Hebrew I didn’t really understand why – it seemed perfectly OK to me, and was, furthermore, still keeping my baby busy, which made it seem downright fantastic. So I let her keep at it until she eventually lost interest.

    Then I noticed that the boys had returned and not only were they now playing in the previously “forbidden” area, they also had torn down the posted signs and were saying in a sing-song voice, “Now it’s OK, now we can play.” I looked away, a tad embarrassed by the mayhem I had caused, and then saw one of their mothers march up and start trying to explain the difficult concept that tearing up a sign doesn’t make its meaning go away. She sternly smoothed out the wrinkled offending sign, as if it held any weight at this point.

    Moral of the story: playgrounds have ground rules, and when you don’t quite understand them, you change the playscape for everyone.