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Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Trespassing

When people ask me what motivated us to move to Israel, I simply point at our kids. Sure, there were political, economic, and even cultural factors that entered into the decision…but in my mind, we moved so that the kids could have the luxury of being kids.

The world that existed when I was a kid (and which was, even then, already starting to disappear) - where kids wandered through woods, abandoned buildings, and private property with impunity… and rode bikes (Schwinn ‘Stingrays’ with banana seats and high handlebars) tirelessly down endless dirt roads, towards secret destinations - no longer exists in the United States. I spent countless school day afternoons, and entire summer days, beyond the range of my parent’s (or any adult’s, for that matter) sphere of influence / knowledge.

Today, American kids are catechized on the need to distrust strangers, stay close to home, and always be accounted for. It is the boogyman that dictated our children's boundaries...not Dr. Spock. We were literally smothering the childhood out of our kids. When our kids used to ask to go around the corner to play with friends, we would first call ahead to tell the parents they were coming. In a few minutes a follow-up call would be placed reporting their safe arrival. Trips to the mall were tinged with suspicion born of abduction stories. I’m talking about the current reality of a middle-class, suburban-Connecticut neighborhood here…not some urban battlefield!

Think I’m being a little paranoid? Riddle-me-this, Batman: Are you more familiar with the purpose and function of the government’s color-coded terrorist threat level, or the amber alert system (indicating an abducted child)? Now based on your answer, ask yourself which is considered to be the more imminent threat to your family – terrorism or child abduction. Be honest with yourself. “Your honor…no further questions.”

Here in Israel, the kids are able to wander around with friends after school. They have freedom of movement and autonomy very much like I had as a kid (way back in the '60s and early ‘70s). Simply put, there are no pictures of kids on milk cartons here. Israeli kids are taught to trust adults and speak directly to them. The other half of the equation is that most adults feel empowered to share in the task of parenting your children. For example, we have discovered that no matter how we have our baby clothed, somebody will approach us and chastise us for either over- or under-dressing the little dear.

I won’t attempt to downplay the issues surrounding the security situation. Yes, there are terrorists. Yes, given half a chance, they would kill my children with the studied purposefulness of a surgeon removing a malignant tumor. I have come to realize that this is precisely how they view themselves…and us. But these self-appointed ‘surgeons’ wield a very random scalpel…and their operating theater is, by no means, limited to Israel. Back on 9/11/01, I avoided being taken from my wife and children by the simple trick of working in one Manhattan office building, and not another. The deliberate randomness of terrorism convinced me that it should not be an influencing factor in the decision of where to bring up our kids.

When it came to choosing our place in the world, we decided to vote with our hearts, and with the hope that we could buy a few more years of precious childhood for our kids. By some people's standards, we are trespassers here. Sorry...I've got the land deed at home on my bookshelf, and all the angry neighbors in the world aren't about to change that. I now understand the challenges facing many African American families as they're 'movin' on up'. In another post, I may address Robert Frost's famous question, "Whose woods are these..." in the context of international law. But for now, suffice it to say, I feel confident that I am on solid legal and moral ground.

However, speaking of trespassing, I have added a new link to the ‘neat places’ list in honor of this entry. If my parents knew the many abandoned places my friends and I explored as kids, they would probably have grounded me forever. I recently found a site created by a Dutch airline pilot whose hobby is crawling around, and photographing, abandoned places; mostly hotels, hospitals and factories. His photo albums are amazing, and they allowed me to experience (vicariously, anyway) that rush my childhood friends and I used to get from our summer adventures.

Enjoy.

Posted by David Bogner on January 27, 2004 | Permalink

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