A Child’s Alarm

My daughter is explaining to me what happened last week in her school when the siren was accidentally set off in our area. She was in school and the school properly (and quickly) treated it as real until proven otherwise. The children were whisked off to bomb shelters. But she and her two friends got separated from her class and so went to the wrong bomb shelter. Her teacher was afraid for her and the others; the others were crying and, if you believe my daughter’s account, she was scared, but she didn’t cry.

She just asked me where we would go if there was an attack here. I explained that we have two areas of the house that are protected – the bomb shelter, which is quite small; and another area.

“So Abba [her father] and Davidi and Shmulik [two of her brothers] should go down there and you and me and Elie should go to the bomb shelter because it’s up here.” Elie isn’t home. Elie hasn’t been home in more than a month, but she is planning for his safety. He is in her plans.

Then she started explaining about what happened when she heard the alarm. She is used to my typing and talking. I am able to type rather quickly and maintain a conversation at the same time, so it doesn’t disturb her. This time, she doesn’t realize that I am typing her words, not mine; her fears, not mine. I can look at her and type – later I can go and read her words and make sure I typed them correctly, add this introduction to explain to you what I have just learned – that there are traumas that must be cleansed; terrors that must be soothed.

She explains there was a siren and then imitates the sount “wee-ooo, wee-ooo” and begins her explanation of what happens in the mind of a 9-year-old. She speaks of her friends – of Rena who never cries, but cried this time; of Tehilla who recently moved to Israel with her family from America. She is brave, now that it is over and she knows it was a mistake. Brave, now that the siren isn’t being heard. And yet – a few moments ago, this explanation began because she came to me and said, “I hear a siren.”

I opened the living room door to listen outside. There is only the usual sound of cars driving on the highway up to Jerusalem.

“There’s no siren,” I told her.

“I heard it.”

“No, sweetheart. Maybe it was an ambulance, but there’s no siren.”

And then she began describing, again, what she experienced. It happened a few days ago, and yet, each day, she has described it to me. It’s a child’s way of cleansing a trauma. The more she explains, the easier it is for her to calm herself. Earlier versions had her crying; today, for the first time, she tells me the others were crying but she wasn’t.

Part of the trauma was caused by her getting separated from her class (three little girls somehow ended up in the wrong bomb shelter). I can’t blame the school. The important thing is to miraculously move a few hundred kids into special protected rooms – fast. It doesn’t really matter, in a physical sense, what room you are in. In an emotional sense, it means being “alone” even with two friends and many children and teachers from other classes. Today, she explained that she was with 1st and 2nd graders. “I didn’t say third grade,” she explains, as proof that this was a scary and unknown situation.

And so she talks and I listen. I let her tell me about the tears and the fears and soothe them over. I add little comments, “But you got there, right?” and “But it was just an accident, not a real alarm, right?”

Her head knows this and yet deep inside there is still the need to explain, and so I listen. This time, for the first time, I was at my computer. It was nothing to quietly switch windows and keep typing.

“We heard the siren and we didn’t know what it was and then everyone started going really fast

“‘Go, go – go to the art room. It doesn’t matter where. Go,’ the guard yelled.

“What did you go?” I asked her, a little upset that the guard yelled. Clearly, he too was scared, having the responsibility of hundreds of children in what appeared, perhaps, to be a rocket attack. If it were an attack, he had mere seconds to get the place cleared. There is no time to speak slowly and softly to sensitive little girls.

“It was so scary. It was me and two girls and they were crying. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was supposed to go to the other room. So I just ran to a different one and then the teacher closed the door so fast. He was so worried, he didn’t now what to do. And then the teacher was going to the different rooms. And I kept telling the other girls to stop crying and I just told them it was an exercise because I didn’t want them to cry and cry and cry. I didn’t know it was an exercise, but I just told them. And then the teacher said we could go out. And than Naama cried because she has two cousins that live in Ashdod and she was crying.

“We had tons of kids that cried. Even Rena cried even though she doesn’t cry every time. It was so scary the siren. I wasn’t ready for it.

“They said it was supposed to be in Beersheva but instead they did our school. But the ‘something’ city did it as a mistake to our school and Jerusalem and not Beersheva. It was scary. Like suddenly – wee–ooo, wee-ooo. And Tehilla didn’t know what it was because in America they don’t have this. And we did an exercise, but it wasn’t a real siren and now it was. And so I told Tehilla, ‘just come’.

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