Saturday, July 30, 2005

Facing Our Fears

(Note to This Normal Life readers: This Normal Life has moved - we now have a brand new site hosted by Bloggerce, complete with pictures, podcasts and more. I will continue to mirror articles on this site for a little while longer, but please update your bookmarks to or


With his older brother and sister gallivanting around California presumably having a grand time on an extended summer vacation with their grandparents, we knew we had to spend some extra quality time with our seven-year-old Aviv who had been “left behind” in Israel.

This need was made abundantly clear during a phone call Aviv had with thirteen-year-old Amir shortly after they landed in Los Angeles.

"What are you doing there, Amir?" Aviv asked his big brother.

“Well, tomorrow we're going to Disneyland,” Amir said mostly matter-of-fact.

“No you’re not,” Aviv replied quickly, but there was a muted look of panic in his eyes. How could he not be included in the annual Disneyland trip, the penultimate height of summer fun?

“Yes we are going,” Amir said.

“No, you’re not!” Aviv said emphatically.

Thinking quickly, I turned to Aviv. “Tell him where you’re going tomorrow.”

A faint swipe of seven-year-old smugness settled over Aviv’s face.

“Well, we’re going to a water park…and you’re not.”

“Big deal,” Amir shot back.

But it was a big deal.

As we entered the Yamit 2000 park in Holon with our friends Debbie and Eliot and their two boys Liav and Avidan, Aviv’s water-loving eyes lit up.

Spread out in front of us were two enormous water slides that fed into what appeared to be a near-Olympic-sized swimming pool; a rambunctious children’s area with a wave pool and randomly timed fountains that erupted to spritz unsuspecting passersby in the face; and a wacky contraption called the Space Bowl that shoots the rider into what I can only describe as a giant toilet basin where you circle round the side at breakneck speed before finally “plopping” through the bottom into the pool below.

There was also plenty of grass and beach chairs to make a respectable picnic…if you can hold down your lunch after swirling through that toilet bowl thingamajig.

But the main attraction of Yamit 2000 was a new indoor section with what was billed as “extreme” water slides.

Which is, of course, exactly where we headed first.

There were three extreme slides to choose from. The “Amazonas” ride was actually pretty tame. You glide down on a big yellow inner tube. Aviv went with my wife Jody, and I went on my own. It was a leisurely, almost dreamy experience.

The other two rides were decidedly less bucolic. One had the calming name “Super Kamikaze.”

“What’s that mean?” Aviv asked innocently.

“Well, kamikazes were pilots in Japan who dive bombed their planes straight down like bombs. So I guess it’s a slide that goes very fast.”

Aviv made a face.

“What about that one?” Aviv asked, pointing to the third “extreme” slide – this one called “The Black Hole.”

I had read about this one on the Internet before we came. “It’s a slide that goes in complete darkness.”

“Oh no, I don’t want to do that one,” Aviv said immediately.

“You sure?” I asked. “It sounds fun.” The line was the longest of all, and it was the most heavily promoted. Extreme slide enthusiast that I am, I figured that ought to account for something.

“Abba, no! You know I don’t like the dark.”

“You know sometimes it’s good to face our fears,” Jody poked in.

Aviv looked perplexed.

“That’s when you do the thing you’re most afraid of,” Jody clarified.

“Well I’m not doing it, so don’t ask me again!”

And that was that. Or so we thought.

We went on the Amazonas a second and third time, and on the outdoor slides at least four. But there was something rattling around in little Aviv’s brain. He didn’t express it out loud, but clearly he was thinking about something. We just didn’t know what.

We had some lunch and rested before heading back to extreme action land.

“OK, I decided,” Aviv announced suddenly.

“Decided…what?” I asked.

“I’ll do it. The Black Hole.”


“Yes. I’m going to face my fears.”

Jody and I gave him a high five and then, before he could change his mind, we raced to get in line. The line of course snaked much too slowly, giving our inner chickens plenty of time to cluck away. But Aviv stayed steadfast with his decision. We climbed the stairs to the top and then faced down the Black Hole.

I sat Aviv on my lap and we shot off into the enveloping darkness. They’d done a good job of painting the tube black; it was so dark that at one point I wasn’t sure we were even moving.

I kept repeating encouraging words to Aviv.

“Isn’t this great?” I said. “Not too fast. Not too scary.”

Aviv giggled nervously.

The slide sped up. Faintly lit stars appeared on the side, illuminating our faces. Aviv still looked tentative. Then the path dropped suddenly. I was thrust to my back as we sped up with a wicked start. I struggled to regain a sitting position which I knew would slow us down.

The stars faded and now arrows pointing backward zipped by, as if to say “you’re going the wrong way, turn back.” Right, like that was going to happen. We were locked into an R-rated version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I envied the big kids at Disneyland with their safety-tested family fun. Another twist, another lurching turn and then…

…we were out. Back in the normalcy of daylight. Aviv and I both caught our breath.

“That was great!” I said, not entirely sure of myself. “Wasn’t it?”

But there was no question for Aviv: he had a huge grin on his face that said loud and clear that while he may not have enjoyed every moment, he was darn proud. He had faced his fears…and come through with flying colors (or lack of color, this was after all the Black Hole”).

“So you ready for the Kamikaze now?” I asked.

Aviv looked at me like I was crazy.

“Come on then…” I said. And the three of us got back in line, fears faced, to do the Black Hole again.

Friday, July 22, 2005


This Normal Life has moved to a new open at Bloggerce. Please update your bookmarks to either or I will continue to mirror articles on this site for a little while, but check out the new This Normal Life - complete with pictures and even podcasts. How cool is that!


“How did this happen?” seven-year-old Aviv asked suddenly one night.

“How did what happen, sweetie?” my wife Jody replied.

“How did it happen that Amir and Merav get to go to America and I have to stay here,” Aviv pronounced with a mix of confusion and rising consternation.

Meanwhile, thirteen-year-old Amir and his eleven-year-old sister Merav were in a very different head space.

While Amir spent his last minutes before we left for the airport with his nose to the grindstone (the computer in this case), juggling several simultaneous chat and Skype sessions while doing some impromptu bug testing of my new company’s software, Merav broke out in song every few minutes and hugged me, unable to contain her excitement.

“We’re going to America!” she squealed with glee. “Alone!” she added.

Yes, our two older kids were about to become our very first, bonafide B.U.M.s.

Blum Unaccompanied Minors, that is.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Amir and Merav would get a chance to spend a few weeks in California with their grandparents on their own. We were sure they’d have some incredible adventures, unmitigated by prying parents, while getting to know that other half of their dual citizenship a bit better.

But as the moment of truth approached, I was a nervous Nelly.

Jody had already gone over all the rules of being a good guest.

“Remember to always say please and thank you.”

“Yes Imma.”

“Always offer to help.”

“Yes Imma.”

“And don’t leave your towel on the bathroom floor,” I added.

“Because when you left your towel on the floor when you visited your grandparents, they almost kicked you out, right Abba?” Merav said, recalling my ultimate family fashla.

“And well they should have,” I said.

The babysitter arrived and it was time to head to the airport.

“OK, let’s go through this one more time,” I said in the car as we sped down Highway One in the direction of Tel Aviv. I began my instructional narrative one final time. “Now, when you get to Newark, the escort will take you through customs…”

“Will there be TV screens on each seat?” Merav interrupted.

“Yes…then you go into the customs area where you have to identify your luggage. You don’t have to take it, but…”

“Can I have the window seat, Amir?”

“Sure, whatever, Merav. Hey Abba, do you think we’ll get a hot stewardess on the plane?” he asked, entirely serious.

“First of all, that’s not an appropriate question,” I answered. “And second, they’re called flight attendants now, not stewardesses. Now then, you’ll be walked to a waiting room in Newark until it’s time for your next flight….you got all that?”

“What? Huh? I wasn’t listening really,” Merav said.

“Me either,” said Amir.

I would have thrown my hands up in the air. But I was driving. And we were out of time.

As we parked the car and headed through security on our way towards the check-in counter, I started acting out my nervousness by telling anyone and everyone around me of our unique situation.

“It’s our first time,” I said, hoping to elicit a compassionate smile or some reassurance from the check-in agent that our kids would be well-tended. Jody rolled her eyes.

“Come back at 9:45 PM. Meet at Counter 17,” the agent said matter-of-factly after she’d processed our Unaccompanied Minor forms and taken our payment.

“That’s it?” I said.

“Is there something more you need?”

“No, not really, I guess…”

A couple of other kids were already hanging out with their parents. They had large orange ribbons on their backpacks.

Enough with the ribbons already!

As we waited, it occurred to me that this wasn’t any worse than when we sent Amir and Merav to Scout’s camp just a few weeks before. There, it was other kids running the show. Here at least it was a professional.

The agent arrived a few minutes late and immediately started marching us towards passport control. No hello or chirpy introduction:

“Good evening, my name is Mandy, and we’re so happy you’ve chosen to send your children half way around the world with just me in charge, an unsmiling bored desk clerk who was corralled into this dead end job after I spilled one too many tomato juice cocktails on a passenger’s lap...oh, well, I digress….”

“I’m going to miss you guys so much,” I said to the kids as we said our goodbyes.

“We won’t,” Merav said, then quieted when she realized that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But she couldn’t contain herself.

“We’re going to America!”

And then they were off. Fading into a small blur as they disappeared into the bowels of Ben Gurion.

24 hours later, they called from Papa Mike’s cell phone at LAX. They’d made it fine.

Yes, the escort in Newark almost put them on a plane to San Francisco instead of Los Angeles, and they lost their kosher meals, but they made do. The things that bother us as parents, the small organizational details that make us wacko, they don’t phase our kids at all.

After all, they’re going to America. Alone. Just a couple of B.U.M.s. And we’re going to be just fine.

All of us.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Fast Food, Fast Camping (Redux)

It's been a year since we arrived at the Jerusalem Scouts' Summer Camp woefully empty handed. This summer, we went back with goodies galore...and my new digital camera. In honor of both these enhancements, I am republishing the original story - complete with photos so you can get a better feeling for the event and an audio version that you can download or subscribe to as the first in a series of "This Normal Life" podcasts. can't do it from here...

As of this post, I am migrating "This Normal Life" to a new home at Bloggerce (which also is the name of my new company). If you want to see all the pictures or listen to the audio,'ll just have to go to the new site. Same URL as before: If you've got this Blogspot site bookmarked, please update your links.

I'll be "mirroring" my posts for a little while here but, really, go on and check out the new site. And while you're at Bloggerce, why not sign up for a 30-day trial blog of your own. It's very cool...and free. Enjoy!

-- Brian


Parents Visiting Day is a time-honored camp tradition. But what about when the camp in question is all of three days?You can imagine, then, that we were a bit skeptical when ten-year-old Merav insisted that we come up to check out her summer quickie campsite with Israel’s version of the Scouts.

Especially since the time allotted to visiting comprised little more than two hours. It was a long drive and it wasn’t like she was even going to be away from home long enough for us to start missing her (and vice versa, presumably).

But it had been awhile since we’d been out of Jerusalem, and the promise of some fresh air in the lower Galilee hills sounded promising.

And so it was on a hot Thursday afternoon that my wife Jody, twelve-year-old Amir, six-year old Aviv and I took off in the car for the Tzipori Forest where the Jerusalem Scouts were holding their annual machane kayitz (or summer camp).

As we passed a shopping mall with several restaurants not far from the campsite, Jody remarked that the place seemed quite crowded. When we arrived in the parking lot for the camp, we realized why.

Nearly every parent was carrying a large plastic bag stuffed with fast food: McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Pizza Hut. Brand names only. And kosher too!

Some parents came armed with coolers overflowing with a wide assortment of goodies entirely of the junk variety. Apart from a couple of cut up watermelons, there wasn’t a healthy snack in sight.

We, on the other hand, had a Tupperware container full of sliced red and yellow peppers, and a half eaten box of 96%-fat-free organic soy and linseed corn thins.

Guess you have to have been to a few of these Parent Days to learn the ropes.

Which was the real point of inviting us, we soon discovered. As we passed through the security post (the camp was completely fenced in and armed to the teeth with guards), we were confronted with hundreds upon hundreds of intricate wooden sculptures.

Well not exactly sculptures. But scouting projects on a truly massive scale. There must have been thousands of campers milling about in the woods (there are 60,000 campers nationwide, and this was just the Jerusalem division, remember).

Each age group had chosen a theme and constructed a large number of towering structures, makeshift buildings and other highly creative works...all out of thin logs of wood tied together with rope. Now we understood what Merav meant when she said the Scouts "build their own camp."

The counselors, we learned, had painstakingly planned everything out in meticulous detail during the preceding weeks, using skewers lifted from several local grilled meat restaurants to design tiny models of what were now mind-blowing feats of teenage engineering.

The counselors laid everything out and the campers tied the wood together using that standard of scouting worldwide – knot-making. Merav’s troop had chosen to build an entire world relating to the theme of "Monopoly.

Strewn among the sleeping bags and tents I spied a pair of floating wooden dice, a makeshift "railroad station" where presumably you could ride on the Reading Railroad, a large ship that I was told was supposed to resemble one of the game tokens, and a life-size blue and white Community Chest perched on a mound of rocks. There was even a jail which doubled as the Scout’s synagogue.

Before I could remark on the irony of that juxtaposition, Merav came bounding at us, clearly delighted that we had made the trek and eager to show off everything they had done. Despite the fact she had only been able to nod off for a couple of hours the night before ("the boys kept trying to paint our faces whenever we went to sleep," she reported), she was her usual bundle of enthusiasm and positive energy.

We walked through the campsite to enjoy the Disneyland-like ingenuity on display, passing all manner of construction and creature, from knotted wooden spaceships to giant Ninja Turtles. We passed a spirited volleyball tournament with kids drumming and cheering on their teams from the sidelines.

We also passed all those parents we had seen earlier, now sitting down with their camper children and enjoying their fast food fix. I noticed Merav checking out our belongings. Her eyes darted around my backpack, then to Jody’s purse. She was too polite to demand "What, no Big Mac?"

But still..."We didn’t know Merav," I said, not entirely apologetically. Even if I had known, I might not have partaken in this very Israeli indulgence. I remember the rules for Visiting Day at overnight camp a few summers back in California: no outside food allowed. There was even a special section in the parent’s manual warning against sewing a hidden pouch inside a stuffed animal to smuggle candy inside!

"Did you bring anything to eat?" Merav asked.

"Carrot sticks?" Jody offered.

Merav accepted this feeble token of our love. But there was no time to argue. The loudspeakers were already blaring "all parents must leave. Visiting hours are over." I thought back to the synagogue/jail.

We hugged Merav and made our way to the car. We wondered if she would sleep tonight. Was there more to build? And...who was going to take it all down?

As we headed back to Jerusalem, I spied the mall we had seen on the way up. I put on my signal and pulled in."Hey, where are we going?" Amir demanded from the back seat. Aviv looked up from his GameBoy.

But I had a plan: I figured if we couldn’t bring fast food to Merav, at least we could do the next best thing...and eat it ourselves.

"So what will it be: McDonald’s, Pizza Hut or..."

Maybe some grilled meat on a skewer?