It is ridiculously early in the morning (okay, just after 6 a.m., but still...). My son is yelling for me from his bedroom, as if it is 2012 and the Mayan predictions of the end of the world have actually come to pass. I pad across to his bedroom sleepily, cursing the day that the child first found his tongue. He is sitting up in bed.
"Go back to sleep," I command.
"Ani lo rotze!"
"Speak to me in English."
If the child insists on insolence so early in the morning, the very least he can do is to speak to me in my own language.
"Me said I don't want to!" he clarifies, shouting loudly enough to raise the dead. He points through the window to the incontrovertible evidence supporting his position. "It's morning!"
It's going to be another long dayâ€¦
The concept of Israeli childhood is something of a revelation to me. In Nigeria, where I spent most of my early years, little 'uns knew their place: to be seen and not heard, to speak only when spoken to, and even then only with the deference that suitably reflected the lopsided power structure between the parent and the child. In England, where I lived and worked as a school social worker (among other things) for a decade, there seems to be a general bemusement on the part of adults with the whole complicated business of childhood. Children, on the whole, appear to be left to their own devices; the results, predictably, are mixed.
Israeli children, on the other hand, are assertive, confident, forward. I get the sense that from a very early age, the little ones are taught to question, to challenge, to ignore hierarchy and to assert themselves if they think that things are not quite right. The other day, when I went by bicycle to pick my small one up from his gan, I had a deep and involved conversation with one of his friends, just four-and-a-half years old, about whether it was necessarily safer for us to wear helmets.
That said, her main problem was that she objected to the design of our helmets. She thought that I should wear a pink one.
Mind you, I don't actually think that this instinct - to question, to debate, to argue - is necessarily a bad thing. What it develops, I suspect, is a generation of confident, articulate and motivated young men and women, never hesitant to put their opinions across and state what they think to be right or wrong - in their minds, at least. But then they're packed off for a couple of years of mandatory army service.
Let's be candid: There ought to be a time and a place in a young person's life for rebellion, challenging the established hierarchy and the natural order of things. However, the army probably isn't that place.
For one thing, military service is founded upon the principle of absolute fealty, unquestioning obedience to the orders of one's superiors. Beyond this, the army has a special place in the Israeli landscape. It protects the nation from the enemies just beyond the door. It is the melting pot where social and ethnic distinctions count for nothing. It is, perhaps, the perfect meritocracy. So long as one remembers to follow the orders of one's commanding officers.
THERE'S BEEN a mighty wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth lately about young people who have actually thought to question their roles in the army. There is the celebrated case of the young men who put up a banner declaring that they would never take part in the evacuation of settlements in the West Bank; before that, a couple of months ago, a group of 12th-graders wrote an open letter to the defense minister, declaring their intention to refuse to enlist in the IDF and stating their belief that "there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Let's put aside ideological differences for a moment. One brings up a child not to accept at face value the worth of an argument presented to them, but rather to question, to inquire, to make up their own minds about the validity of a stated position upon its merits alone. Should one be surprised, then, if they have a difficulty with political decisions that - at the best of times - seem to be thought out in haste, without the cohesiveness or coherence that would suggest that they've been thought through to their logical conclusions?
That aside, there is also that natural tendency with teenagers - and although they may be old enough to serve their country, to bear arms on behalf of their country, and occasionally to die in the service of their country, we must remember that they are teenagers - to rebel against the platitudes that the older generations expect them to accept as fact. Hell, when I was 18, I was looking forward to college and to four years of drunken, debauched behavior. (Of course, there was the whole business of taking a degree, too, but this was merely incidental.) If I had been expected to give this up in exchange for obligatory military service, the very least I would have wanted was a bit of a say in the nuts and bolts of the process.
But in a sense, all this is neither here nor there. At the moment, I am more concerned with my recalcitrant son, three years old next week, who firmly believes that he should be the one to rule the roost. I don't like it, not one bit. But I do hope that one day, he will be confident enough and articulate enough to make up his own mind about all sorts of things.
And I hope that I will be mature enough and patient enough to argue the points through with him, rather than sulk in a corner because I can't have my own way.
Happy birthday, Adam. Your father loves you very much. Even when he is obliged to deal with you at an hour when good people are still fast asleep.