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There is one New Year's resolution I've never been able to stick to for more than the three weeks beginning on Rosh Hashana and ending after Succot: to cease taking to heart the chorus of criticism I continually incur for making sure my children are up and out of the house on time in the morning. Rising to an alarm, I am told, is a task that should be as much their own responsibility as it is in their best interest.
"Your kids are old enough to wake themselves up," say people who either do not reside with teenagers, or who have forgotten what it's like to raise - and rouse - them.
In fact, the older adolescents get, the harder it is for them to wrest themselves from dreamland. A place where homework, matriculation exams, pimples and broken hearts are the stuff of nightmares - not the far worse reality with which they have to contend the minute their day begins.
Their inability to rise to the occasion known as high school can also be attributed to the late hours they keep, supposedly studying. Or so they say, to fend off pleas that they go to bed. And threats of terrible things transpiring if they don't. But if they've learned one thing from all their years of education, it is not to take such threats too seriously.
What they do take too seriously is their place among their peers. A complicated area of fieldwork if there ever was one. One that's apparently most manageable when the moon is out. Indeed, nighttime is when their lives are full of possibilities, which they passionately and endlessly discuss via SMS and ICQ, or over sandwiches and salads at the nearest Aroma. The darkness, it seems, provides a kind of protection, shading - and shielding them from - the self-magnified external and internal imperfections they are unable to dismiss during daylight.
Such nocturnal leanings, naturally, are better suited to vacation than vocation. Which is why the end of summer break requires an adjustment that is much more than merely academic. What it entails is a mass shifting of biological clocks to synchronize with the schedule of The System. A tall order for such a short-tempered age-group under the most congenial of circumstances. A super-human feat when the dastardly "zero-hour" is added to the equation. And subtracted from sorely needed sleep. Theirs and ours.
ZERO-HOUR is the Israeli school system's maneuver to turn mothers like me into conspiracy theorists.
"It's a plot against parents," we complain to each other. When we're not protesting about the possible illegality of the phenomenon - which we'd been assured several years ago was being abolished altogether. Not that we really believed anything we'd read in the papers or in PTA memoranda. Not those of us with previous experience, at least. Like our children, we, too, have spent years learning a thing or two.
An argument could be made against our anti-zero-hour attitude. "What difference does 45 minutes make?" we are challenged when we complain. This might be a reasonable rebuttal if the individuals in question - those who have to be in class by 7:30 - weren't teenagers and their teachers.
The point is that the situation on the ground - or, in this case, on the desk and at the blackboard - begs for a new body of research, if not evidence. The kind that inspires the application of the principle to the people who have to put it into practice.
In the absence of such a professional evaluation of the effects of zero-hour on the national psyche, I would like to provide an amateur one.
Let's start with its name. The term "zero-hour" has ominous connotations. Like the count-down to the Columbia space shuttle. Or to a chemistry test. It signifies the end of one period and the lift-off of another. In other words, what it spells for these child-like creatures with increasingly adult-like features is: i-m-p-e-n-d-i-n-g d-o-o-m.
Among other normative responses to the fast approach of an unwanted event, narcolepsy is my own family's favorite. Which means that while it only takes wild horses to drag said teenagers to their feet on a regular school day, much harsher measures are called for on a "zero-hour" morning. Cold water poured on faces comes to mind. Other examples may not be fit to print.
Then there's the onset of the opposite dread-related symptom - insomnia. When it dawns on these young-folk that they have to be up at, well, dawn, they are automatically unable to fall asleep. And so goes the vicious cycle.
This cycle is not only one of poor sleep patterns. It is also a merry-go-round of our kids' requesting that we supply them with signed notes excusing their tardiness on the one hand, and of the school's insisting that we cease being in cahoots with our kids by equipping them with alibis on the other.
Another problematic aspect of zero-hour is its iffy attendance rate on the part of the teachers. If we parents had a shekel for every extra-early schlep to school that turned out to be unnecessary due to teacher truancy, we'd actually be able to afford the costly tuition fees involved in "free education."
THIS YEAR, I am making another attempt at accepting my role as Reveille-player-in-residence, and at disregarding raised eyebrows. The holidays enable me to do this, of course, since they mean school is essentially out. Thankfully, the countdown to zero-hour doesn't begin for a couple of weeks. So, in the meantime, there's not much cause for alarm.