Two events have occurred that have changed the audio environment of my office. First, summer has arrived, meaning the windows are now always open. Secondly, the municipality has completely refurbished the local play ground, located next to my office (in my apartment), including swings, slides, a roof, artificial grass and (just) enough open space to play football. As a result, I get to listen to the sounds of children all day long.
As a matter of explanation, I live in a neighborhood that could be described as lower middle class. A series of low apartment buildings, with apparently random addresses, surround this playground. The residents, a typical mixture of a periphery city in Israel, include Russians, Ethiopians, religious and non-religious people, Arabs (yes, there is no Apartheid in Israel) and more established Israelis. Unemployment is minor but nobody could be considered rich. The cars in the parking lot are run of the mill while the sizes of the flats range from 90 to 140 square meters. We chose to buy here because of the apartment size and garden. So, the neighborhood is alive but not dangerous.
Back to the playground, this diversity is reflected in the various “shifts.” In the morning, the older residents and mothers/grandmothers watch the babies and toddlers enjoy the facilities. As the school day ends, teenagers hang out and talk their own special nonsense and release stress. In the late afternoon, once it cools off, the parents send their kids out, creating a scale microcosm of the area: from white to black, first to 12th grade, boys and girls, comfortable to modest dress. From my “observation” of the sounds emitted from the area, I have noticed the following:
1 Regardless of language and culture, the song “na, na ,na na, na” is intended to annoy.
2 There is the always the “Godot” kid, the one everybody is calling but I have never actually seen. In my case, it is a girl named Zoar. Someone is always calling for Zoar to come.
It may be genetic but, whatever the reason, give kids three open square meters, they will start playing football and arguing, mainly the latter.
4 Kids never tire of hide and seek (call tofeset in Hebrew). I can’t figure out that many places to hide there but it does not stop the endless count up from 1-20. Children in this neighborhood quickly learn how to count in Hebrew and English.
No afternoon is complete without a good cry. Specifically, at least one day, one kid has to experience catharsis by sobbing. Often, s/he is the one previously saying “na, na, na na, na.”
6 I have been there and done that but it does not help. I really hope the teenage boy whose voice is changing finishes the process soon.
7 The bossy girl lives on. We can hear give orders for hours and get upset when discipline is lacking.
8 Kids find cursing fun. In this case, the foul words are in Hebrew, Russian and English.
9 The various ethnic/religious/family groups tend to initially keep to themselves, but you can count on football and hide and go seek to bring everybody together.
This concert or cacophony may not seem to be the ideal background for work requiring concentration. It is true that I or my wife have considered various methods of silencing a few individuals. Still, for the most part, the mind can ignore the high pitches from outside or even appreciate the youthful spirit. Personally, I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood in Los Angeles, without any communal playground. Everybody was locked in their castle. I sort of regret that I didn’t grow up in such a neighborhood. So, even if would rather not listen in, I try to remember that the communal playground plays an important and positive role in growing up and developing social skills (and thick skin). So, I just grin and bear it.