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From Masks To Missiles: Parenting in Unprecedented Times

Let’s take a stroll down my personal memory lane, where 2020 and its unprecedented events led me to a powerful realization. In January, my father, a pediatrician, already sensed a worldwide pandemic. We had flown to Israel in February for a wedding and my father sent us armed with masks and antiseptic gel, suggesting we disinfect every surface we came in contact with on the plane. While in Israel, we joked about an impending pandemic, but our laughter couldn’t mask the unease building beneath the surface. After returning to Los Angeles, my father, who was immunocompromised, requested that we quarantine before seeing him.

Child During COVID
Child Practicing Safe Distancing Even in Play

Little did we know how much the world would change. Schools and synagogues shuttered, quarantine became a household term, and suddenly, our lives were filled with masks, social distancing, gloves, and Purell. Looking back, it's a marvel we made it through those turbulent times. We all know very well at this point how the coming years truly unfolded. Lockdowns, 6 feet of separation, limited parties, zoom meetings and classes, etc. In hindsight I truly don’t understand how we all made it. How we all handled it. And yet here we are, looking back at the insanity of it all.

People responded to the lockdowns in various ways. Some huddled with loved ones, others defied the warnings. Then there were the heroes fighting the pandemic on the front lines. I belonged to the fortunate group that could quarantine with family, especially my father, though we maintained a cautious distance. It was an unexpected blessing during a time of uncertainty. I was pregnant, raising an adorable 2-year-old, and welcomed my second child in August. Life was surprisingly normal until October, when my father passed away.

We all recall the uncertainties and fear surrounding COVID-19. The questions that plagued us, from the virus's origins to conspiracy theories and existential dread. Governments worldwide mandated lockdowns, an invisible enemy lurking around every corner, keeping us in suspense.

Many lives were lost, but eventually, we saw a glimmer of hope at the end of the seemingly endless tunnel.

My husband and I decided to turn over a new leaf and moved to Israel in 2021. Moving to the other side of the world during a pandemic was an adventure in and of itself, but that's a story for another day. We've enjoyed two years of getting back on our feet, adapting to a new country, and working towards a brighter future for our family. Then, seemingly out of the blue, the unthinkable struck our small nation. This wasn't Israel’s first encounter with terrorism, but this time, it was different. I wish that only countless rockets being fired at our people was what started the war we are in now. Sadly, the nightmare that unfolded was far worse, and now we are all experiencing a different kind of lockdown. One I had never experienced before. We know the risks of living in Israel that come along with its splendor. It’s part of the package and cost benefit analysis of deciding to move to Israel. Perhaps you could think of it like moving to California may come with earthquakes, or having hurricanes in Florida. Sadly, you know to expect war and terrorism in Israel along with its beauty. Unfortunately, this is the reality.

While the physical impact of this war isn't global like COVID, it is much bigger than our tiny nation, affecting people worldwide. And now, I find myself at its epicenter, living in the eye of the storm in Jerusalem, Israel.

The lockdowns of COVID required us to keep a distance, not seek the bomb shelter no matter how crowded. Corona made us introspective, maybe even antisocial. We felt safe in our homes, isolated from others. Now we are locked down for survival against terror and evil. Huddling together and drawing strength in the unity and closeness with our neighbors and compatriots whose names we don’t yet know. Unlike during the pandemic, when those around us were a threat for what they might spread, here and now, we are greater as a family and a nation together than we ever were apart.

The reason I'm sharing this with you today is to open up about my emotions, thoughts, and realizations as a mother, someone who's constantly striving to protect and raise her children in the best way possible. The past week and a half have plunged me into a sea of insight, fears, frustrations, and inner turmoil beyond anything I'd ever imagined. I now grapple with how to interact with my kids on a daily basis. It's a constant tug-of-war of how to engage our new reality. I want to hold them close forever but I also need to let them be. Do I watch them play with each other, or continue my responsibilities? Can I scoop them up in the middle of the night just to cherish the moment a little longer, or should I let them sleep while they can? Do I even attempt to explain to them in children’s terms what is happening? How can life go on as normal when nothing is normal? How do I reassure them, when I still need it for myself?

Mom Trying to Protect her Daughter
Israeli Soldier Helping A Mother and Child Escape the Terror During the Simcha Torah War

Each time I hold my baby now, tears flow. These are tears for myself, for the struggle to navigate life in the shadow of fear. These are tears for the countless other mothers who've lost their children to the horrors of slaughter, rape, decapitation, kidnapping, or on the front lines. These are tears for those innocent children and mothers, living in a constant state of fear and vulnerability, held as hostages, their lives irrevocably altered in the blink of an eye.

My kids, used to monotonous days indoors during COVID, have never felt like this before. They sense an evil, hatred, and fear around them that's palpable. Quarantining was caution, not sheltering for dear life. Once fascinated by ambulances, mimicking their alarms, they now startle, whimper and cry. No longer can my words reassure them of their safety, instead I hold them close and hug them a little longer. This time, the enemy is visible and close, and protection requires a different kind of strength, one we feel we lack. Where I once believed we'd emerge from the madness, I can no longer guarantee the war on terror is over. I'll forever be on edge, listening for the next siren and the earth-shattering BOOM that follows.

My children need reassurance, as do many others in the neighborhood and across Israel. They need extra patience and compassion along with more snuggles and love at bedtime. We all seek that extra comfort before bedtime, as we confront the vulnerability of the night. It’s during times like these, when the fear overwhelms us all, that we just need to lean in and allow our children to express their thoughts, fears, and concerns. It is up to us to do the best we can to emotionally fill their cups and respond to the unfamiliar emotions that weigh on them, so that come evening time, they have less fear of the separation that bedtime brings.

I know that, especially now, I draw my strength from my children, and they draw their strength from me. Our children need us more than ever in times like these, and we need them. It is important to have some clarity and some perspective as adults raising innocent, young developing humans of the next generation. Take an extra moment and deep breath before berating your child for misbehaving. Spend a little more of your time with your kids and put the phone aside. Do the activity that they suggest and play with the toys they want to play with. Give them an extra smile even when they are acting out. Have a little more compassion when they are struggling whether it’s doing homework, potty training, or getting along with siblings and friends. When we are able to help them, play with them, and tune into them just a little more, they will feel reassured, and so will you. Draw your strength from the love of your children, and let them draw strength from you.

October 7, 2023 forever changed our country. Forever changed mothers. Forever gave us a new perspective on our mission in life and the protection of our innocent children. Let’s not let that lesson fade away.

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