Monday, July 21, 2014

Labour pains

In all of last week's craziness my friend went into labour. It was a long drawn out labour interrupted by several air raid sirens during which she and the rest of the maternity ward were rushed to shelters.

Our young sons are close friends, so her boy stayed with us for a few days while she was in hospital, days that coincided with our town's first experience of rockets, including an interception right overhead, shrapnel from which started a brush fire in a local park.

Poor little boy, not only without his Mummy for a few days, but sleeping over at a time it seemed prudent to put all the kids to sleep in our rather small home shelter. There he was, anxious about his mother and on top of it all trying to get to sleep with three other children in a small windowless room worried about another rocket attack.

To cap it off the siren went again just as I was tucking the boys in, my oldest calmly leading the family in singing Psalms to calm the other children, my friend's son plaintively complaining "But Mummy and Daddy always say we should do quiet things to help sleep, what's all this noise at bedtime?"

It was a tense night, eventually the only thing that settled everyone down was letting them stay up for a while snuggled in amongst the blankets and cuddly toys I'd made sure to leave on the sofabed that takes up most of the space in our household shelter room. My oldest put on a children's video for them to watch, and eventually they conked out, but not before 22:00, incredibly late for a pair of kindergartners.

The next day they went of to summer camp as usual but with huge bags under their eyes.  And when I say summer camp I mean staying indoors or in the yard within 90 seconds of the nearest shelter.

Whether it was the tiredness kicking in or just the tension all around I don't know, but these quiet boys who usually keep themselves busy with toys cars and dinosaurs were bouncing around my flat like jumping beans that afternoon, as though they didn't know where to put themselves.

And then I caught what game they were playing.

"Wooooohoooh!" my son wailed


 "Listen, it's another siren, we better run to the Mamad (secure room/shelter)"

 "Oh, it's still going, lets stay in the Mamad and hide."

"Oh, now we can come out YAAAYYY!!"

 "Oh no, it's another siren we have to go back in again."

And so on and so forth. Not exactly the kind of new game I hoped my kindergartner and his friend would come up with. On the other hand they didn't seem scared, a bit too frenetic, a bit too animated and jumpy, yes, definitely, but it was mixed the the natural exuberance of kids their age. All said and done despite it grating on my already strained nerves it was certainly a good way for young children to process the upset going on around them, a good outlet for their concerns and stress from the situation.

Eventually they got tired enough that I was able to entice them into the kitchen to bake biscuits with me, followed by a nice quiet hour of them making sticker pictures with the toddler to take to my friend in the maternity ward, and a few extra to send with care packages to our soldiers in the south.

After dinner the boys embarked on another round of "sirens and rockets" (the game even has a name), this time with the boys taking turns at being "good rockets" and "bad rockets", with the good rockets chasing the bad rockets around the room and trying to catch them before they could "explode", accompanied by yet more pseudo-siren noises. Oh the noise, the noise, my poor poor neighbours.

They were still at it when my DH came home from work and I was trying unsuccessfully to get them to bed with a story. My friend's son finally wore himself out and crashed, spreadeagled on the bed, clutching one of my son's cuddly animals.

My boy was still hyped up though, my husband beseeching him "Stop being a siren and go to sleep!" Five storybooks later he finally curled himself up at the opposite end of the bed next to the toddler and nodded off, his big sister slumbering away on the mattress on the floor. Finally, all four of them asleep in the shelter.

While her son played and eventually slept at my house, over in a Tel Aviv region hospital my friend found out what happens when the sirens go and you're in labour hooked up to a monitor in the maternity unit and need to get to a shelter.

Over the next few days she would find out over and over again what it was like to be in hospital during an air raid. Her newborn had to spend time in the NICU, which it turns out is not in a reenforced secure part of the hospital, and because of the frailty of the babies hooked up to equipment, they can't be rushed to a shelter during an alert.The nurses stay with their tiny charges through the sirens, relying on Iron Dome to keep them safe. It was a terrifying experience for a mother: "When the rocket alerts came there was nothing much those of us in the NICU could do, other than to lean over our babies and protect them with our bodies in case the blast from a rocket strike or even the interception was close enough to shatter windows."

Days later her baby was finally released from hospital. As she signed the paperwork and happily carried her newborn out to the car she saw nurses rushing to the helipad with gurneys, medivac helicopters coming in to land and her heart sank with the knowledge that these were surely signs of bad news. We found out today these were some of the first IDF casualties from the ground assault in northern Gaza.

It's all part of the dizzying pace of events lately, personal joys mixed with national sorrow, children's unexpressable fears spilling out in exuberant play, the mundane and the surreal, the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet.

We pray for simpler, peaceful times.

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