Many years ago, before I had children, I remember sitting in a meeting at work with a colleague who was casually discussing the fact that her young son was not feeling well, but was in good hands with his Nanny whom she completely trusted. At the time, I marveled at how this woman remained so calm and did not rush home to be with her sick child. I predicted that someday when I was a parent, I would never be capable of putting on such a brave face. At the first sign of trouble, I would be there by my hypothetical child’s side, keeping him or her safe, healthy and feeling loved.
I’ve learned a few things since that time.
One such enlightenment is that, when it comes to parenting, OBSERVING a situation is often a far cry from being IN a situation. And you might say that Dave and I, along with many other parents who sent their children to Israel on “the trip of a lifetime” this summer, are IN a situation that the entire world is observing.
Noah has been in the country for three weeks – with two more to go. I wrote last about the struggle I faced with letting him go here. At the time, I was worried about him making his way without me, growing up so fast, and handling the minor mishaps of travel. I had no idea what was about to come. I wish I had the luxury of fretting over clean underwear now. Instead, I wait for the daily updates on his itinerary, which change regularly to keep our children out of harm’s way.
As of this writing, most of us parents have decided to keep their children in this beautiful country which is now under attack. Stepping outside myself for a moment, the thought of not bringing my sweet boy home immediately seems preposterous. In fact, I don’t actually have to travel too far outside my own head and heart to second guess our current strategy. The buzz of self-doubt has been constant since the rockets started firing, with the decibel level rising and falling daily based on the news we are hearing.
Last night, two rockets were launched at the town where our children were sleeping. They missed their targets, as have the hundreds of missiles that have been fired at Israel in the last week. Today, the group continued with their journey,without any interference from yours truly.
Suddenly, I am the brave face. Times 10. Or maybe I am crazy. The jury is out on that verdict as well.
Thank you to everyone who has been kind enough to reach out to us to see how we are holding up. I know you are all genuinely concerned, but at the same time really curious about our thought process. I would be, too. So here is some insight into that for those of you who are going through it – or might ever have a child in harm’s way while far away from you.
I can speak for myself only. Even Dave is processing these events differently, although we are (so far) coming back to the same place. My psychological state over the last week has been swayed by a series of conversations.
First, I have spoken with Noah several times. He is happy and enjoying the trip immensely. It has been an extremely meaningful expereience. According to him, all this talk of war is “completely exaggerated.” He and his group have yet to take part in a Code Red and he feels completely safe. His demeanor is an elixir on my troubled heart, but I know that what is happening in Israel is very real. I hope he understands the gravity of the situation and told him that if he does hear a siren to MOVE and MOVE FAST.
I have spoken to the other parents whose children are on the trip. I must say that this is the group with which I am most impressed. You would think that putting a bunch of Jewish mothers (and fathers) together on a Facebook page would deteriorate quickly into a cauldron of anxiety, judgment and alarm. Quite the contrary, I have found these parents to be thoughtful, respectful and patient, with the tour group and with one another. The range of emotions runs the spectrum with some parents choosing to bring their children home, others teetering on the fence, and still others completely committed to finishing the trip. (Surprisingly, most are in this latter camp.) There has been widespread support for all opinions and actions. The surreal nature of our predicament has doused us all in a tremendous amount of tolerance. For this I am truly grateful.
I have spoken to trip organizers who are, in turn, advising us to keep our kids there. They are speaking to the Israeli government every day reviewing itineraries, bus routes, and venues, and making changes when necessary. Their message to us is “you can trust us to keep your children safe. If we cannot keep them safe, we will get them out fast.” This is both comforting and horrifying. But it has been the overriding fact in letting Noah remain.
I have spoken to my Rabbi whose guidance I am valuing above all others. He knows Israel and he knows the tour group. More importantly, he knows my son, and he knows me. He will not make me any promises – but I don’t want promises. Any promise made to me at this point is an empty one. No one knows what will happen over there, but the best guess of Rabbi Rigler – and what he would do if it were his child over there – is my current North Star. He also believes we should keep Noah there, but recognizes the need to assess that decision daily.
I have talked with my husband, whose job it has been since we were married 20 years ago to pull me back from the various edges I have approached with the threat of going over. He continues to be the rock in this relationship. Although my sense is that it is getting harder to pull me back, the closer he is to the edge himself. He knows it is very, very important NOT to suggest at any time that I should calm down. And he lets me say things to him like “if anything happens to our son, I will never forgive you” because he knows that makes me feel better — and he also knows it means I will never forgive myself.
Most of all, I have talked to myself. A lot. Conversations go from the practical (what are the odds this war will escalate further?) to the logistical (if I wanted to bring Noah home, is getting him to the airport more dangerous than staying with the group?) to the prescriptive (just stay busy, he will be fine, what are the odds, you’ll laugh about this someday, repeat) to the punchy (when they said “trip of a lifetime, this is not what they meant.”) I have become my own best friend, agreeing wholeheartedly with each side of my various arguments. It’s not particularly productive, but it is therapeutic.
All of these conversations have kept my kid in Israel. Even though it is the scariest decision I have ever made, it feels like the better of the two options today.
There is one conversation I have not had yet – and that is the one with God. That sums up how frightened I actually am. It would be largest request I have ever made, and I can’t bear to ask for something so specific as our children’s safety for fear it will go unheard amidst the explosions and suffering. So I am joining those praying for peace, and strength, and guidance — for my family and all those impacted by the violence now taking place.
And with that, this brave face crumples.