Sunday, July 20, 2014

Gymborees and bomb shelters

The war has developed a routine of it's own, or rather I should say has spread the routine of the long suffering residents of Israel's south to the centre of the country.

On mother's groups on Facebook and Whatsup women seek recommendations for children's outings that are a) fun and b) close to a bomb shelter. Gymborees, museum and small petting zoos close to fortified "safe rooms" are popular.

Other mothers ask if it's safe enough to take their kids to the park, what if they get caught out in the open by a siren, is 1.5 minutes enough time to gather up all the kids and rush to the relative safety of a nearby parking garage or the stairwell of a building? Some answer that they are trying to keep to their regular routines and trust in Iron Dome to keep them safe. Others have pretty much been staying indoors for most of the past 3 weeks. Yet other online groups are dedicated to fun activities for kids stuck at home by the conflict, creative crafts, games and baking projects. 

Many outdoor attractions in central and southern Israel which earn their bread and butter durign the busy summer season are virtually empty. Those in the south are closed on the orders of Home Front Command because the area is under the heaviest bombardment. Most in the centre are open but restrictions on large outdoor gatherings mean that summer camps and tourist groups have had to cancel, leaving only a few brave or possibly foolhardy families to visit the zoos, nature reserves and amusement parks in central areas targeted by Hamas rockets. The economic impact on these businesses is huge, many have had almost no custom for weeks now in what should be their peak season, and some have had to close their doors for most of the summer.

One place that has been busy is a local gymboree in my town which is in the reenforced concrete lower level of shopping centre. It's right next to an official shelter, but the nature of the construction means that the whole lower story of this structure is technically a shelter. It is one of many attractions advertising "easy access to secure area" in big bold letters.

Home Front Command, the army unit in charge of keeping civilians safe, has a dedicated "explainer" for children. In online videos and special meetings she teaches children what to do when the sirens sound, tells them stories designed to help reassure them and allay their fears, encourages them to talk about their concerns and holds Q&A sessions for worried children in which they can ask all kinds of questions about the situation and what it means to be a child when Israel is at war.

From personal experience I think it's often hardest for those children who aren't yet old enough to ask these questions but are alert enough to the changes in routine and the general atmosphere of tension to know that things are not as they should be. I see my own recently weaned toddler desparate to nurse again, needing that extra proximity, wanting that unique comfort, and friends report similar reactions in their young ones. In many families toilet trained children have started wetting their beds again or having "accidents" in their pants. Kids of all ages wake up with night terrors about sirens and rockets or fears that "bad people" are breaking in to their homes.

I'm glad that for the most part our children are calm, but that level of calm corelates to their ages, with the oldest most able to understand the situation, find ingstrength in knowing what she has to do in case of a siren or other emergency, while the middle one voices more concerns about "what if a rocket breaks our house?", going stock still at every unexpected sound asking us "what was that noise?" and the youngest shows the most signs of stress, like waking up more at night and wanting to nurse again.

My nine year-old at least has tried to find some kind of silver lining. "Ima, I don't like this situation, but you know what, at least I'm learning from it. I remember the stories about grandma spending her nights sleeping in their backyard shelter when she was a little girl and the Nazis were shooting flying bombs at London. When the sirens go here and when we go to sleep in our shelter it makes me feel connected to her. Now I know at least a little bit what it was like to be a child in those days." 

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