I’m feeding the baby, and my older son is playing outside. I hesitate for a second, then summon him. You can continue playing outside, I explain in a composed voice, but promise me, the minute you hear the siren you come in. OK?
He smiles at me, makes the promise, don’t worry mommy. Calms me down. For a second I wonder if our roles might be reversed.
I start folding the clothing. What should I take? This horrible weather. November and still hot. Need to plan for any type of weather. And my daughter is being toilet trained. Need lots of extra clothes.
“What’s taking you so long? You don’t understand how serious this is, do you?”
Not really. More serious than what it’s been until now? We’ve been living with the missiles for years, even though these last months have been crazy.
We don’t have a proper bomb shelter. We can’t take a four-month-old baby to a public shelter. We can’t stay in rocket range. Then I hear the explosions. Though distant, their impact is felt. So close my husband brings the children in the house. “Stay here,” he commands, “until we finish loading the car. The sirens are going to start soon.”
The house is a mess. The kids are running around, making it messier; they sense the excitement, they too hear the booms. I’m not really focused on the clothes. All I hear is that danger in the distance, getting closer. I can’t believe we are actually striking back. After years of them firing at us, of having to sit through those horrible sirens, praying those missiles don’t fall, don’t harm my babies.
One, two, three, babies I’ve rushed to the protected area over the past four years. Could this be the end?
We load the car. Start driving up north. It gets dark, and each exit sign on the highway indicates our proximity to safety. Don’t look back. Home isn’t safe now. The older kids doze, and listening to the news, I realize how tired I am as well. You don’t really sleep when you live through those missile attacks; you sleep with your ears open, and with your legs stretched forth, prepared to run for shelter.
My son opens his eyes. Notices the darkness, the strange road, the car speeding. “But you said there would be sirens,” he entreats. “Why are there no sirens?”
Reiterating his strange request in my head, it suddenly dawns on me: we are far from the end. His four years of existence have been overshadowed by the missile threat. Not every day, but enough times to become a significant part of his life. You can get a child out of the missiles’ range, but you can’t take the missiles out of him. His childhood games are tainted with it; every hide-and-seek game has been transformed into a strange version of “the missiles are coming—run!” His playground songs are echoes of the siren’s deadly tune.
What are the emotional consequences of such a life? How does a child overcome the sense of impending danger, the cautiousness he’s been taught to take? What kind of life does a child live, if he’s always looking over his shoulder, always prepared to take a run?
A life of learning to feel safe, to trust, to rest. To be free. Even if the missiles end, the real challenge, that of learning to live, is only just beginning.