By RUTHIE BLUM LEIBOWITZ
If it weren't 2 a.m. on a weekday, I wouldn't be telling them to take pity on the neighbors and keep their voices down. They've all had a tough year juggling homework and hormones, scouts and army screenings, driving lessons and matriculation exams. Part-time jobs. Bouts of acne. Bruised egos. Broken hearts.
Parental nagging is the last thing they need right now, I figure, treading softly to the terrace to coax them indoors rather than reprimand them for making a racket. Particularly since what my 17-year-old daughter and her friends are in the midst of doing - other than barbecuing chicken and guzzling coke - is engaging in an animated debate on a subject about which they are clearly passionate.
"It's an issue of loyalty," one boy asserts, in a tone I heard him use during one of many marathon study sessions that have taken place in my kitchen over the past few months - as close to the refrigerator as a group of 11th-graders can get. "And that's supposed to mean something."
While preparing for the history test a couple of weeks ago, this boy was arguing with his classmates about the United States having sided with the Soviet Union to fight the Nazis. Tonight, it turns out, though the rhetoric is similar, the topic is closer to home. Not that Hitler doesn't strike a personal chord for these kids, all of whom are scheduled to visit Auschwitz in October. And they are quietly conscious of the connection between the tour of their roots - through the ashes of their past - and subsequent donning of IDF uniforms to ensure the continuity of their future.
"Let's ask my mother what she thinks about all this," my daughter's voice pipes up over the din, before I have the opportunity to point out that "summer vacation" doesn't apply to those of us who have to go to work in a matter of hours. Flattered that this cool crew is interested in what I have to say about wartime values, I postpone my original mission and make myself available for comment.
The dilemma, explains one of the girls, involves the trip the whole gang is going on - not to Poland in the autumn, but rather to Greece in August. It's a package deal: a week on an island, including airfare and hotel. The girls, as it has been unanimously decided, are going to one island, and the boys to another. The problem, they explain, lies in the fact that though the girls and the boys agree on the segregation, they are at cross-purposes when it comes to its goal. For the girls, it is an opportunity to gossip and sunbathe. For the boys, it is an opportunity to flirt with a new set of girls - ones they imagine will be swarming the island they have selected.
"OH DEAR," I say, which the boys interpret as a cross between disapproval and shock, and the girls as a sign that I am pondering their predicament with the weight it warrants. In fact, what I am actually feeling is trapped, without an emergency exit in sight. So I stall.
"Why is this a problem, exactly?" I ask, hesitantly.
"Because two of the guys are dating two of the girls," my daughter rattles off the details with the speed of lightning. "And the two guys will feel left out if all their friends get to hit on girls in Greece while they have to stay faithful."
"What's the question again?" I falter.
"The question is whether they should break up before the trip and get back together afterwards," another girl picks up where my daughter left off. "Or whether they should be unfaithful and not tell, or cheat and confess."
"What about not cheating?" suggests the exasperated boy with firm and unwavering principles. "I mean, either it's a commitment or it's not."
"But I didn't make a commitment," protests another boy, relieved that his girlfriend isn't present.
"You said you loved her, didn't you?" the first boy challenges.
"Well, yeah..." the second admits.
"So, why do you even want to go out with somebody else?" one of the girls shrieks, as though it is she who is being wronged.
"It's a guy thing," one of the boys tells her, as though it is he who is being yelled at.
"NU?" MY daughter presses me to step in and settle this. She is too young to realize that if I could do so, I'd be God, not a middle-aged woman desperately in need of a good night's sleep. But I can't let her down. Not when she's brought me in as an authority. In front of her friends, no less. This is one of those historic moments to be savored, not squandered.
"It's only a week," I say, shrugging sheepishly to the poor boy who envisions his fantasies going up in smoke.
"That's precisely why it seems stupid to break up and then get back together," he moans, pleading with me to see his side. Which, of course, I do. I take a deep breath and clear my throat. I am never going to get to bed - or persuade these people to take their party inside - until I deliver.
"Dilemmas usually resolve themselves very differently from the way we imagine while we're obsessing over them," I announce, to my audience's puzzlement and dismay. These are the pearls of wisdom that an ancient oyster with decades of hindsight has to offer?
"Mom, come on," my daughter urges. "What does that mean?"
Standing up and pointing at my wrist to indicate how late it is, I spit out: "It means that the girls are more likely to end up being faced with this particular dilemma on the trip than the boys."
Judging by their communal surprise, it's clear that this possibility had never occurred to any of them, least of all to the boy in braces whose being in love is bumming him out about his island excursion.
Why - I wonder as I doze off - couldn't they have asked me about the Holocaust?
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