If this story seems a little bleary, it’s because I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night. Seems we were locked out of our house.
By our kids.
Mabye it was our own fault. My wife Jody and I decided a few months ago that the kids were old enough to stay home without a babysitter when we went out. After all, Amir is thirteen and already does some babysitting for pay.
We were invited to our friend Alan’s birthday party at the Elvis Diner. That’s right, just a few minutes outside Jerusalem on the highway to Tel Aviv there’s an authentic circa 1950s American diner with a pure Elvis theme.
Elvis pictures on the walls.
Elvis music on the jukebox.
Even a great big golden Elvis statue on the way in.
OK, so to the best of my knowledge, American diners have never and probably still do not serve humus and tomato-walnut salad with the French fries.
But that’s not the point.
The point is that we had such a good time, we didn’t get back until well after midnight. We told the kids not to wait up.
So they didn’t.
But when we got to the door, the bolt was on. Not the one that opens with the key, but the swinging handle bolt that is 100% secure from robbers or other undesirables and can only be opened by someone on the inside.
It was surely an oversight, a habit before bed by either Amir or his eleven-year-old sister Merav. I was peeved, though, because I had specifically said before we left “Remember not to put the swinging handle bolt on.”
So fine you say, just knock on the door. Yes, you would say that if you didn’t know what sound sleepers our kids are. Nothing wakes them up.
Remember the story last year about then five-year-old Aviv when he walked into a window and cut up his knee? We took him to the emergency room to get stitched up and on the way over he fell asleep in the car.
He slept through the shot to numb the pain. He slept through the stitches. In the morning, he woke up, looked down and said, “Hey, what’s all this on my leg?”
The irony of course is that while we have truly relished the fact our kids are such good sleepers – especially when other parents tell us about multiple wake-ups all night long with their youngsters – on this night, the blessing became a curse.
But still we tried. For a solid hour and a half, we stood outside the door knocking, ringing the bell and calling over and over from my cellphone to our house phone. I could hear all three handsets ringing all over the house. I must have called close to a hundred times.
At one point Jody went out into the courtyard and started lobbing rocks up at Amir’s second floor bedroom window.
Our neighbor Marc was still awake and offered to smash a window for us. “That should wake someone up, right?” he suggested helpfully.
With our kids, not bloody likely. Plus what would the neighbors think? Oh yeah, he was the neighbors.
“Maybe the terrace door is unlocked,” Jody said referring to the third floor terrace that we share with Marc’s apartment.
“No,” I said. “I made sure to lock it before we left so nobody could get in.” I just didn’t know it would be me on the other side.
Eventually we gave up and Marc offered to let us hang out at his place for the four hours remaining until the kids would be getting up to prepare for school.
Jody nodded off pretty quickly. Me, of course…I couldn’t sleep. I tried watching TV. I rummaged through Marc’s video collection. Pretty sparse. A few old thirtysomething episodes. Seen those.
I scoped out the bookshelves. There was a lot of George Eliot and Kurt Vonnegut, but nothing trashy. I don’t have anything specifically against staying up late. I’ve got about a zillion books I want to read. Videos too. But they were all on the other side of that locked door.
Night slowly turned to daybreak.
At 6:20 AM, my cell phone rang. It was Merav.
“Abba? Where are you?” she asked. She sounded on the edge of panic.
“Come to the front door and open it,” I commanded.
All three kids – Amir, Merav and Aviv – opened the door to see me standing there, still dressed in my clothes from the night before. As they unlocked the door, realization set in.
I was ready to get nasty. To give them a talking to about never ever using that bolt again. About the misery they’d put me through. But there were tears in Merav’s eyes. Amir was standing in his bathrobe, a mix of sheepishness, guilt and relief all mixed up on his face.
Only Aviv seemed unaware of what had really happened.
“I got up first,” he said, starting into his usual blow-by-blow but ever so playful recitation of his actions, “and I saw that you weren’t in your room, so I looked upstairs and then I told Amir and he called your name but you weren’t here...”
“We thought maybe there was a terror attack,” Amir said.
“Or that you were in an accident,” Merav said, then added, “If you died, how would we know?”
I couldn’t stay mad.
Jody tramped in a few minutes later rubbing sleep from her eyes. I pulled her off to the side and, after I explained what was going on, we did some quick damage control, reassuring our potentially traumatized children.
OK, so what can we learn from this experience? That maybe thirteen is just a bit too young to babysit into the wee hours of the morning? For sure, that we shouldn’t come home after the kids have gone to sleep.
And that in a place like Israel, where terror is part of the daily language, we need to consider all sides of the emotional equation.
“So...how was the party?” Amir asked just before leaving for school.
“Ask me later,” I said. I might have been able to work my way out of my mental funk, but there was no way around the Elvis-sized hangover I'd gotten from this unplanned all-nighter.
Now pass the humus and fries, OK?