Our long, hot Israeli summer

Somewhere in the middle of the very long list of “Things they don’t tell you BEFORE you make Aliyah” – a list that would include tips like “Don’t sell all your stuff before coming; you’ll need more of that Target brand crap than you think;” or “Israeli Tupperware really stinks” or “Living on a kibbutz means feeding kids that aren’t your own at least two days a week” – is this doozy: There is nothing for your kids to do in August.

Now, as you know, I live on a small kibbutz in the North. So it could be that my kids have less to do in August than their city counterparts.  And we did have Gan for the little one until mid-August and some options for the bigger ones in early August. But compared to what abounds in New Jersey in terms of camps and summer programs, our options were extremely limited and extraordinarily pricey.

Not that day camp is cheap in New Jersey; but when you decide to suck it up and pay for camp you know you’re getting a full day of activities – so much so that when your kid finally gets off the bus in front of your house at 4:45 pm, he’s happy to sit in front of the television for two hours, and you don’t feel guilty about it one bit because you know he’s been learning to swim and dive and make campfires and knots, especially fancy ones that get turned into friendship bracelets. If your kid goes to Jewish camp, you know he’s even hearing a little bit of Hebrew or singing Zionist pioneering songs. You feel like he’s had a good solid day of stimulation and exercise.

Here in Israel, we had two options for August, one of which was a regional camp which was reasonably priced but got less than stellar recommendations from people we know whose kids went last year; and the second was a morning Nature Camp that sounded a little bit unbearable to me in the 100 + degree heat of summer, and I knew would be a disaster for my oldest who craves high energy activity, not quiet, contemplative exploration of nature in the boiling heat of Israel.

This August, our first since making Aliyah, has been the longest month of my entire life. And it’s been twice as long for my husband who has had the bulk of the childcare responsibility this summer.

I’ve been lucky on the one hand in that I have an excuse for an escape. My full time job right now is a large chunk of our family income; and since I don’t have any vacation days left after using my four days in June, I’m pretty much required to show up at work. But my poor husband, who is a consultant and a part-time work-at-home dad, has been at the center of a rude awakening this summer. A mistake he will never make again, which is children need something to do in the summer. As much as the 1950s era Leave it to Beaver idea of summer (wandering around the neighborhood looking for pet rocks or selling lemonade in front of the five & dime) might appeal to you, it’s just not the reality for our post-modern kids who have grown up over-stimulated and under-inspired. Sorry if that’s harsh, but it’s true; even for my kids who I try very hard to under-stimulate and over-inspire.

The fact is if you are not prepared to be the resident camp counselor for your kids, you better pay someone else to.

In May, I gently suggested to my husband that we try to round up the funds to send my oldest to the States for the summer. He could stay with my husband’s cousin who has a house in upstate New York and who we trust to parent our kid (who has nut allergies). My husband squashed that idea in an instant and assured me the summer would be filled with “Avi Camp” activities (Avi being my husband), such as drawing, hiking, and English and Hebrew lessons. Avi even suggested he and my oldest would work on making a movie with our Flip camera, part of a “turning off Phinneas and Ferb and learning Hebrew” project.

The film project lasted approximately three hours.

Instead, my 8-year-old has been in between our house and his grandparents’ house near Tiberias, similar to, as I’ve come to learn, most Israeli kids between the ages of 4 and 10.

It’s truly amazing, I have to say, how involved Israeli grandparents are in their grandchildren’s lives. It’s not true across the board, of course, but it’s noticeably truer here in Israeli society than it was for the families I knew on the East Coast of the U.S. This particular cultural difference between the two countries fits into the “family is a priority” category which could be broken down even smaller into the “we really take care of our children” category, which could be loosely interpreted as “we love to spoil our children because that’s what parents do.” Depends on who you ask.

The way this looks in day-to-day Israeli life is parents of little children nodding yes, yes, yes as their little ones scream for junk food (Why? Because it tastes good!); parents of teenagers stuffing their kids’ pockets with cash (Why? Because they’re only kids once!); or Israeli parents of adult children paying their kids’ rent or buying them groceries on a regular basis or putting a down payment on a new house (Why? Because they need a little help getting on their feet is all.)

I’m not criticizing this parenting style, mind you; that would be like biting off my nose to spite my face.  I’m just noticing it. And wondering if perhaps, the reason we don’t have more August summer programs for our kids is because working parents expect their parents to watch their children. And the grandparents are used to saying yes.

Or is the fact that there is no programming for our kids in August related to the long list of grievances coming from the folks protesting across the country in tents? The root of which would be, “We don’t get paid enough to afford rent and groceries; how could we possibly afford summer camp?”

No money to demand camp. No supply.

I’m not sure which is the reason for the lack of summer programming for kids. All I know is that if I were writing a book on “Things they don’t tell you before making Aliyah” (and I’m getting very close to that point), item #24 would be “Save money for a U.S. vacation in August.”

Trust me. If you follow tip #5 – “Save your garage sale for Israel; you’ll get a lot more money for your stuff” – you might be able to afford it.

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