Child’s Play

When speaking with any Israeli in advance of our move here, a common thread wove itself into the conversation. “If nothing else, Israel is a great place to raise children,” each would say.

I know this must be surprising for Americans to hear — How can a country whose land has been ravaged by war, terrorism, and political strife be a great place to raise a family? However, as most foreign visitors of Israel will tell you, Israel on the ground is a much different place from Israel in the news.

In the five times I visited Israel before I made Aliyah, I never once saw a scared Israeli. Only one time, when I was a participant on a teen tour and staying for the weekend on an army base, did I ever witness any evidence in person of the unrest here. (Something had tripped a security wire on the perimeter of the base and the soliders had to get into formation… it turned out to be an animal.)

That said, there still seems to be an underlying, and perhaps in-born attitude in Israel that life is short…so you must enjoy it while you can. This manifests as heavy partying among Israel’s young adults; as a national smoking habit; and as freedom, in every way and form, for Israel’s children. The freedom to play outside at all hours of the day and night; the freedom to walk into town or to each other’s houses alone; the freedom to eat whatever and whenever they want; or the freedom to watch TV shows that are a bit too mature for them (like the currently popular telenovellas from Mexico).

Children rule in Israel…or so it seems to this new immigrant mother. It wouldn’t be fair for me to judge just yet. Although it’s hard not to judge because I feel myself being judged…and so I also feel defensive.

In a group of mothers at an impromptu playdate recently, I was the only American…and the only mom saying no. No, that my children had already eaten enough chocolate chips from the bag. No, don’t hug the baby that hard. No, you’re a big girl, you can do it by yourself. You don’t need my help.

By Israeli standards, I’m a tough mom.

I’m the only mother on the street who suggests that my child might wear a helmet while trying out the scooter. The suggestion that this activity might present a danger to my eight-year-old is the butt of a joke. As is the idea that 7:00 pm is a reasonable bedtime for my two-year-old.

In the States, I was probably a more anxious mother than some of my friends, but I was never a complete anomaly. In the States, you have the type of mother that is constantly worried that something bad will happen to her child. And then you have the type of mother who is never worried…until something bad happens to her child. It’s with a very deep sense of worry or calm that American mothers go about parenting their children, all dependant on the psychological make up of the mom.

What motivates the casual nature you see in mothers in Israel? Does the “innocence” of childhood carry more weight here because of the conflict? Is childhood treasured more? Preserved at all costs?  

Are Israeli mothers less fearful of common dangers we American moms incessantly worry about — choking, getting run over by a car, child molesters — because Israelis understand the very real danger of being completely wiped out in a matter of seconds by a very real enemy?

I don’t know. But I lend myself to an experiment — that of being an anxious American mother among much more seemingly easy-going, and sometimes indulgent, moms. How will I fare? How will my children?

Already my son had one accident that may have been prevented had I let my anxiety rule and not my desire to fit in. But, he’s okay. No broken bones. No worse the wear for having fallen face down into the street off the scooter.

And, perhaps I too will be okay in the face of allowing my children to be children. To trip. To fall. To succeed. To fail. To choose. To indulge.

To be children.