The Difference in a Warning

What a difference a warning makes…four months ago, Israel was at war. When a siren sounded suddenly, you didn’t think, you just moved. We live a bit over an hour away from the edge of the area where missiles could hit. People there had up to 60 seconds to find shelter. We live a bit under two hours driving from the areas where people have a mere 15 seconds to find safety. You can probably get from one corner of your house to another, if you are scared enough, and run fast enough…but can you get to a sheltered room if you are outside in the street? What if you are driving? What if you weren’t expecting it.

Last time, during the war, the siren sounded accidentally, sending our children into panic as they were quickly herded into shelters. There was no time to calmly explain, no time to ease their worries. The guard yelled; the teachers scurried with their charges; and my daughter and two friends ended up in the wrong place, separated from their teacher and their class. It was a trauma for her that took her weeks to smooth over. We were lucky this time.

It was a national drill – we knew the exact second the siren would sound and so, with this warning, there was no worry, no panic, no sudden heart-stopping fear that a missile is about to fly through the sky and come crashing down on you or someone you love.

“We had just 3 minutes to get down [to the bomb shelter], the teacher told us and some kids wanted to bring games but I told them, ‘you can’t bring games.’ If it was real, you just have to go, you can’t take games with you. And my friend’s father told her we’d be there for an hour, but we were only there for 15 minutes, like you.”

I didn’t lie to my daughter. I told her that when the siren sounded, I went into the bomb shelter at work. It’s true, I did. I just didn’t stay there for 15 minutes – but children miss the subtleties of life. I went because I wanted to be able to tell her that I’d gone. As I’d expected, telling her in advance (as did the teacher a few minutes before the siren sounded) meant there was no fear.

Downstairs – it was really only 5 minutes. They thought it was a lot of time for us, for third grade. So they gave us a page to color. I read a newspaper for kids. It was fun.

In the long run, it might be considered strange that a child would think going into a bomb shelter and simulating a nationwide attack would be “fun,” but she will have years ahead of her to wonder and worry. For today, the best thing I can say is that it was “mission accomplished.” She got into the bomb shelter on time, and wasn’t traumatized along the way.

And one more thing. she’s a tiny, thin girl who is always starving. For the last few months, I’ve been making her three sandwiches to take to school. Israeli children typically have small breakfasts at home (and sometimes not even that). Then, at 10:00 a.m., they eat something, and then again around 1:00 p.m. So, three sandwiches seems to work. Today, as we were talking, I noticed that there were two sandwiches left over.

“Why am I making you three sandwiches if you aren’t going to eat them?” I asked in frustration. This is another difference between a 9-year-old and an older child. The older one will understand when I am asking a rhetorical question.

And so she answered, “I don’t know. When you make me less, I’m hungry and then when you make me three, I don’t eat them.” She said, her voice filled with as much frustration as mine had been.

Clearly, we have discovered another of the great wonders of the world. Children will, even in the strangest of circumstances, be children. Today, because she had a warning and knew what was coming, she handled it well. Her biggest concern was not being bored, and the fact that she was coming home with uneaten sandwiches. The difference is all in the warning. What she doesn’t know, at her age, is that should the real attack come, it is likely there will be no warning, no relaxed walking, no pages to color.

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