Monday, May 19, 2003

TV Zombies

We almost didn’t make it.

It was a few weeks ago, on a day when the kids didn't have any school, and we had planned a family outing.

Now, those of us who keep Shabbat in Israel chronically complain we have little or no real weekend. We get two days off, all right, but it’s Friday and Saturday, not Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday is Shabbat, and so not a day to get out in the car to explore nature. And Friday…well, most attractions shut their doors early on Fridays (usually by 2:00 PM). Combine that with Shabbat preparations and all the errands that need to be done before the sun goes down, and there just aren’t many days the whole family can get out into nature.

So this outing was all the more important.

We didn’t know exactly where we wanted to go, but it had to have trees, picnic benches and preferably some swings and a slide. And we were determined to make it happen.

But when push came to shove, somehow the day just didn’t get going fast enough. There were breakfasts to be made and dishes to be done. Laundry needed to be washed and folded. I found myself spending too much time futzing with my new ADSL wireless modem. Jody wanted to go to the gym and I really needed a run (this was before I broke my ankle). Before we knew it, the day was half gone and we were still in the house.

Isn’t that the way it goes so often in our frazzled and overly-programmed 21st Century lives, not only in Israel but wherever you may live in the world?

And what were the kids doing all this time? Watching TV, the last-chance babysitter.

Or first choice babysitter, depending on your perspective.

Now I don’t know about your house, but in the Blum family, when the kids watch too much of the tube, their eyes start to glaze over. They become intolerant of any distraction. They lose all sense of derech eretz, of proper interpersonal behavior.

In short, they turn into TV Zombies.

It started off slowly. This one’s leg touched the other one’s arm. That one was making annoying snorting noises. The boiling point was in sight but not imminent. Jody and I knew this would soon be a problem.

And still…

The lunches weren’t packed. Aviv didn’t have his shoes on. Amir was complaining he had no clean underwear.

In the battle between inertia and action, inertia was winning. And we began to think: maybe they’d be OK after all watching TV the rest of the day. I could finish installing the modem. Jody could spend extra time preparing for her class. It was a little chilly after all outside. Maybe…

And then…

“Move over!”

“I can’t see!”

“Imma! He hit me.”

“She started it.”

“Get away from me!”

Don't tell me this has never happened in your house.

I don’t know if I was even conscious of the change that clicked inside of me. But somehow, I went from passive to active mode. I raced down the stairs.

“Turn that TV off now!” I barked.

“But it’s our favorite show!”

“Just a few minutes more.”


And then, mustering up an uncharacteristic level of enthusiasm, I began barking like a cheerleader with a mission.

“Shoes on. Forget about the underwear. I’ll throw in some fruit and cheese. Move it, troops! We are getting out!”

And somehow we did it. 15 minutes from the moment of the click, the entire family, stunned and more than a little confused, piled in the car and headed out of the city. Now the only question was: where to?

We had heard that there was a nice forest near Bet Shemesh that we’d never been to before.

It took some time for the change of venue to set in. But we put on a happy face. We were going to have fun.

We found the President’s Forest quite easily. No sooner had we entered than we knew our luck was turning. The forest was gorgeous, shaded by hundreds of pine trees and filled with picnic benches and, yes, swings, slides, and even a few teeter-totters.

The kids forgot what they had been fighting about and immediately jumped on the playground equipment. Jody and I set out the lunch on the cleanest table we could find. We all played science experiments on the teeter-totter (Jody and Aviv on one side, me on the other – look everyone, we’re balancing!)

After lunch, we went driving further into the woods.

“Hey what’s that?” one of the kids asked.

It looked like a big rock, but it was very well formed. There was a little plaque next to it with the title and name of an artist. A sign a bit further indicated we were on the Sculpture Trail. An unexpected surprise.

Indeed, all through this forest were tens of rock and metal statues, some jarring, others blended almost imperceptibly into nature. There were lions’ faces and Picasso-like twisted beauties, more than a few stoned mushrooms (my expression not the artists'), and a sculpture with twelve metal rings called “Jacob’s Sons.”

We twisted and turned for some ten kilometers, truly enjoying each other’s company, singing songs, hurtling out of the car periodically to make new discoveries. It’s amazing the kind of effect nature has on kids…and their parents. Why does it take us so long to realize it each time?

You know, we almost didn’t make it. But I have a feeling the next time we suggest a family outing, the kids may very well jump at the chance.

The President’s Forest is located just north of Bet Shemesh. From the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway, drive until the Shimshon Junction and turn west onto Highway 44. After about 3 kilometers, you’ll see the entrance to the forest on your left. Follow the signs for the Sculpture Trail and exit at Kibbutz Tzora on the other side.

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