Navigate to Community section

Childish Things

My son’s pyromaniacal tendencies, Bibi, and bedtime stories that go awry

Etgar Keret
December 17, 2010
(Sarah Lazarovic)
(Sarah Lazarovic)

On the last day of Hanukkah, Lev asked us to let him light the candles. The little guy had celebrated his fifth birthday a couple of days earlier and the whole business had gone to his head. “I’m 5 now,” he said. “So I can ride a skateboard, drive a car, and land a battle spaceship and light the Hanukkah candles.” After grueling negotiations, we managed to get him to give up on driving a car and landing a battle spaceship in exchange for our recognition of his fundamental and historic right to light Hanukkah candles under parental supervision.

The candle lighting was a resounding success. Lev then suggested in the holiday spirit that he also light the curtains in the living room and the bedspread in the bedroom, triggering another urgent discussion between the wife and me on the balcony.

“We’ll tell him that it’s dangerous and that’s that,” the wife said. “We have to be firm with him.”

Ya’allah,” I said. “Let’s go for it.”

When Lev heard that he couldn’t burn the curtain, he burst into tears and claimed that in kindergarten, they said that every day you have to light a curtain and eat eight jelly doughnuts. My wife still tried to argue that the only things that gets lit are candles and the exact number of jelly doughnuts to be eaten isn’t specified in the holiday manual. But her flimsy arguments shattered on the armor of our pyromaniac son’s terrifying determination.

As the front got increasingly hotter, I realized that responsibility for resolving the situation rested on my broad shoulders. So I chose to apply the strategy I had developed in past conflicts, a method that never ceased to prove itself: bribery. “If you give up on the curtains,” I said to Lev, mustering the most soothing voice I could find, “you’ll get—”

“But Daddy,” Lev said, “I don’t want to give it up. I want to kill Greeks and burn things like the Maccabees.”

I tried to calm him down. “When you get older you’ll have lots of chances to kill Greeks and burn things,” I said. “But until then you’ll have to wait, and as a reward for your patience, you’ll get—”

“Eight jelly doughnuts, a jug of oil, and a rifle that shoots top-like bullets like the one Ronni Cooperman has?” Lev asked excitedly.

“No,” I said. “But you’ll get an amazing bedtime story that Daddy will make up just for you about the best kindergarten in the whole solar system.”

Lev lay beside me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, he loves my stories, but on the other, with all due respect to the world of imagination, a story, however funny, surprising, and thrilling, still isn’t eight doughnuts full of strawberry jelly or a made-in-China dreidel-launcher sold under the counter by a scar-faced salesman in the mall toy store. He listens attentively, though somewhat suspiciously, to my story about the Nice-Kids kindergarten.

After I spend a few minutes introducing the kids—Marty-Smarty, Dwight-faster-than-the-speed-of-light, and Matt the mind-reading cat—Lev asks me who their enemies were. I tell him that they were just kindergarten kids and didn’t have any real enemies. But Lev persists. “Come on, what’s the name of kindergarten where the bad kids go, the ones who fight them?” he asks. I hesitate. Then I tell him that the kindergarten is called the Nasties Kindergarten.

“The Nasties Kindergarten,” Lev says, smiling happily. “And how do the Nasties want to destroy the earth and the planet of the mind-reading cats Matt comes from?”

An uneasy silence filled the room. “Lev,” I say, “are you sure that’s what the Nasties want to do?”

“That’s how it is with Nasties,” Lev says, shrugging.

The wife comes into Lev’s room with a warm down blanket just as I am telling him how Nick-Karate-Kick landed a blow on the terrifying robot dog that threatened to devour the Nice-Kids Kindergarten while Paul-Walk-Through-Walls is breaking the tail of the Nasties’ spaceship, which is about to crash into the yoga and educational-game corner of the Nice-Kids playground, just as Fred-Iron-Head is shattering the wall of the Nasties’ kindergarten in a retaliatory attack. The look on her face makes it clear that an educational talk awaits me in the living room.

That night, I dream I’m sitting at a small plastic table with Benyamin Netanyahu sipping chocolate milk. “The Americans don’t want to play with me,” he complains, “because I sent Nick-Karate-Kick and Fred-Iron-Head to Dubai to beat up a kid from the Nasties’ Kindergarten.”

“Why did you do that?” I asked. “Was he a threat?”

“No,” Bibi shrugs. “But the kid wanted us to do it.”

“What kid?” I ask.

“Yours,” Bibi says. “He said that either we do that or it’s eight jelly doughnuts. And where does that little turd expect me to dig up eight jelly doughnuts, what with the economic crisis and all?”

“So what you’re actually saying,” I rebuke Bibi, “is that this whole conflict is because of my son, a 5-year-old kid?”

“Not just because of him,” Bibi admits. “Smash-’em-Now Lieberman and another couple of Nasties from the party asked for it too.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “But I just can’t accept, that you, the prime minister of Israel, are evading responsibility and trying to shift the blame on a 5-year-old.”

“Prepare for action,” Bibi interrupts me in the middle of my dream. “A huge, nasty robot dog at 12 o’clock is trying to devour our slide.” And then I woke up, I think, or maybe I was just watching the news.

Translated by Sondra Silverston

Etgar Keret is a Tel Aviv-based filmmaker and fiction writer. He writes a regular column from Israel for Tablet.

Etgar Keret is a Tel Aviv-based filmmaker and fiction writer.