Tuesday, July 5, 2011

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.

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