the 90th minute

Until September 2007, when my oldest daughter was born, this blog covered daily life and politics in Israel, as well as Hebrew-English linguistic issues, from the perspective of an American-raised journalist and translator living in Israel. Now it mostly serves as the SmunchMonk&Bear news agency, a portal into the bizarre universe of the little people. Read more at:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Skirting the issue

Rimonit loves skirts, and whether I'm trying to get her to put on pants for gan or a dress for Shabbat, she regularly demands a skirt instead. The only problem is I only have three for her (one of which went AWOL for a while), and of those she would be more than happy to wear her yellow-and-gray striped skirt every single day (I did once let her wear it for three days in a row, but don't tell anyone...)

On Friday I went back to one of the biggest stores in the Givatayim Mall (probably about a tenth the size of a similar store in a small-to-medium American mall, as opposed to most stores here, which would probably be dwarfed in the perfume section of their American counterparts), the department store H&O. The last time I was there they had told me they were all sold out of skirts for age 3, but I was hoping they had restocked in the intervening weeks.

What I wanted was a couple of really simple cotton knee-lengh skirts that she could wear anywhere, ideally in a solid color so she could actually wear a shirt that sort of matched it.

What I got was a lesson in Israel's inescapable identity politics (not to mention misplaced paternalism and unparalleled customer service).

"I'm looking for a skirt for a 3-year-old girl," I say. "What size would that be?"

"Religious?" the saleslady asks me.

Me: "What does that have to do with the size?"

Saleslady: "I wanted to know whether to show you short or long."

Me: "So why don't you just ask me if I want short or long?"

Saleslady: "So do you want short or long?"

Me: "I want to see what skirts you have for size 3 so that I can make my own decision about what to get."

Saleslady: "Well, we just have this one."


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Where's the cake?

This is an Israeli birthday song that Rimonit loves and which I hadn't heard of before coming to Israel. The words are:

Ein ein ein hagiga
Bli bli bli bli uga
(Az) eifo eifo eifo eifo etc. (this part goes on for a while), eifo ha'uga
Repeat last line

It sounds kind of absurd in translation - all it amounts to is "There's no celebration without cake, so where's the cake?" - but it's a really fun and catchy tune, so I can see why she likes it.

Her babysitter introduced her to the YouTube clip of the song (linked above), and she loves that (but only asks the babysitter for it, never me or W), as well as singing it on her own while playing or jumping (excuse me: dancing).

They sang it in gan for the birthday party yesterday, and the kids were really into it. I just wish they had left it at playing the music and doing their own thing in gan without bringing in the gan's music lady, which is the Thing They Do on birthdays. I really don't like her and I think her schtick is totally inappropriate for the age of the kids in gan. She always blasts the music super loud and then has to shout to be heard over it. A couple of the kids got upset when she started to get going. And this is the oldest class! They use her for all the ages.

She has these very structured routines, replete with props, which is fine for kids age, say, 5 and up, but it's just so stupid for little kids, who can't follow directions that well - especially directions that keep changing: Put dots on your mushroom! (and no, that's not a metaphor or a euphemism, just a kind of random prop) Stand up and walk around your mushroom! No, only around your mushroom! Now sit down again and put more dots on your mushroom! Hold up the mushroom and stay still so your mother can get a picture!

It makes me wonder who it's supposed to be for. It's definitely not for the kids, so if it's supposed to be for the parents, then I for one would be more than happy to forgo it.

Another example: As part of her birthday repertoire she has this song about how great the Ima is and she intros it by saying your Ima took care of you from when you were a baby blah blah blah, and then (I can't imagine this happening in the U.S., though I could be wrong) asks the kids questions to which the answer is apparently always supposed to be Ima: Who feeds you? Who does your laundry? Who takes you to gan? (If you were wondering, in our case the answers to the last two are Abba, the vast majority of the time.) When one of the kids did answer Abba to one of the questions, she conceded that "Yes, there is Abba too." I mean, I know they import these people from Bnei Brak since it's a Shas gan and all, but the kids aren't Haredi and the whole thing was just kind of odd. And then she gives them each a fake rose that they're supposed to give to the Imas. Uh, thanks, just what I've always wanted. Of course, Rimonit wanted to keep hers...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When being dictator of Givatayim is just not good enough

While wearing her birthday crown again just before going to bed, after a delayed bday party in gan today:

Rimonit wear crown.
King wear crown.
Rimonit king!

A perfect demonstration of a classic logical error that many adults make too. (All kings may wear crowns - though I can't say I'm 100% sure that is actually the case - but not everyone who wears a crown is a king. Even if the crown-wearer in question does expect you to obey her every command.)

Oh, and a few minutes later, after she had agreed to take off the cardboard crown for bed (I had told her it might get broken if she sleeps in it), she suddenly volunteers: "King no wear crown to bed." Hey, whatever gets you to listen to me, Your Majesty...

Random things I just remembered

- I have been learning all about what little Israeli kids say through what Rimonit brings home from gan, but I don't always know how much is Rimonit and how much is what the other kids do. The first time I heard another little kid shout "Dai!!!" in exactly the same whiny yet aggressive tone of voice that Rimonit uses (though she doesn't use this so much anymore), I was startled at how well this random kid at the park was able to channel Rimonit. I had a similar moment at the park a couple weeks ago, when we ran into one of Rimonit's gan friends, Stav (they played really nicely together and then Rimonit brought over her toys and pretzels to share - she enjoys sharing when it's on her terms), and while they were on the see-saw Stav called out "Aya!" and her mother went over to investigate the boo-boo. And that's how I discovered that "Aya!" seems to be the Hebrew version of "ow," and not just a random Rimonit exclamation.

- RP has been using a lot more English at home, even for things that she used to use the Hebrew for. She does still say "eifo" a lot, but she also says "where." More to the point, I haven't heard her use "kah" or "k'hi" in a while - she now says "take it."

I don't even know all the words she actively says because she doesn't necessarily use the Hebrew ones. The babysitter came and Rimonit was climbing off the couch and said "Ani nofelet," which I can't recall ever hearing her say before ("I'm falling," though she wasn't really). In English, she has taken to warning herself to be careful as she starts feeling like she might fall. I think she might also be targeting it at the furniture. It's quite funny to hear her repeating my intonation and telling herself "CAREful!" as she is climbing onto/off of something.

She'll sometimes translate for me/give me the metanarrative, but switching from Hebrew to English, like I told the babysitter she was excited about her bday party in gan for the next day so she said in Hebrew, Are you going to have cake at the birthday party? And they're all talking about the upcoming uga and then she says to me in English, Ima, cake birthday, or something like that.

- She seems to think Jerusalem is the music capital of the world. We went there for a day over Sukkot and she saw live music in a few places - a few fairs/festivals plus some "busking" (ppl playing music on the street for money). Then we went the next week for a wedding, where there was, of course, more music. She's been saying "Shalayim music!" and driving herself to Shalayim in her taxi. For all of Sukkot and a couple weeks after, she was also building a sukkah in every corner of the house.

- Have I mentioned that Kinneret really really really loves holding the broom?

- They seem to have done a bit of a switch lately. It used to be, esp when K was just born, that the second one of us was holding her it set off an instant reaction in R, who suddenly realized that THE place to be was on the lap of whoever was holding K. Now, though, as soon as K sees R sitting on Ima's or Abba's lap, she's the one who sprints over and begs to be invited to the party.

The case of the missing doppelganger

1. Over Shabbat we had friends over who have a daughter named Kinneret. Since they were originally supposed to come the week before (before one of them got sick), Rimonit basically went around for two weeks saying: "Have two Ki's!"

Fast forward to yesterday morning. I hear Rimonit saying "Eifo Rimonit?" and think at first that she is covering her face, with one of my scarves maybe, and initiating a game of peekaboo (which I think she picked up from Kinneret, since she hadn't really been doing that until K started initiating it, minus the words). But then I look over and she isn't covering her face with anything - she's standing there seeming vaguely perturbed, and not satisfied with being told that there she is.

"Where another one Rimonit?" she wanted to know. Repeatedly. She finally informed me that the other Rimonit's house was in my closet, and that seemed to settle the matter. It was all vaguely surreal. Warren thinks she's certain Kinneret pulled one over on her by digging up a second Ki (actually, Kiki, in her case), even if she's not entirely sure what K gained from it, and she's trying to pull even...

2. Things Rimonit has taken to doing recently: being a lion, a dog and an airplane (not all at once, though I wouldn't put that past her - she has been known to eat a hummus and peanut butter sandwich, and to add pasta to her hummus-cheese-tuna-egg sandwich). With the lion and the dog, she generally alternates between spotting the animal, say, in the kitchen (lion or dog) or on every landing of the stairwell (lion), and being the animal, which of course involves barking/roaring. I've noticed she also likes it to move around - after all, she doesn't stay in one place, so why should her animals?

She seems to be playing with her quasi-imaginary gan friends a bit less these days, but reports from gan indicate she's playing with her actual gan friends more, so I'm counting that as a net gain. It seems like having had one of her pals over for her birthday party was a bit of a turning point for both of them - before that, R had talked about Ofri and pretended to play with her, but they're both on the quiet side when in gan and while I was told they'd whisper together while waiting to be picked up, they weren't hanging out all the time or anything. Since the birthday party, though, they've reportedly been really living it up in gan, and R has also been doing some imaginary play with dolls and such with other girls in gan. The ganenet says she's much more open and talks more to the adults as well as the kids.

3. And speaking of birthday parties, Rimonit's having another one tomorrow morning at gan. They didn't want to have bday parties until after the hagim, so they randomly picked tomorrow to do it. It'll be a party for her and twin boys who she likes to play with. Boy, does Rimonit like birthdays!!! I made sure to point out that she's still 3. So far she hasn't asked for Rosh Hashana and Sukkot to come back because it's her birthday again, which is good because when she wanted to know Eifo Roshana? Eifo sukkah? Eifo shofar?, we told her they were sleeping but they would wake up next year, when she had another birthday and was 4. She told me the other day that Shabbat was sleeping, and when I agreed, she asked the perfectly logical next question: "Where Shabbat bed?"

4. And speaking of beds, Kinneret's latest trick is pummeling me out of it. She's little, but the girl knows how to get things done! Why stand there and cry when you can prod Ima's head and arms, pull Ima's hair and generally make it quite clear that sleeping time is over (even if it only just began)? And she somehow manages to do it all in such a sweet way.

She also loves to tap-dance! (without those shoes, though.) It's kind of this fast shuffling of the feet. And she understands the word "dancing," often performing when she hears it, even if there's no music. (Rimonit's favored forms of dancing are jumping up and down heavily, like an elephant, and turning around in circles. They also like to dance holding hands sometimes.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Loyalty oath

Here's my latest Tablet column, about Israel's proposed loyalty oath.