Wednesday, November 21, 2012

swirling thoughts #221 - oops (written but never posted...til now. i blame the valium)

A sense of humor only takes you so far. And then you need valium.

How could I even say such a thing? Because I can. I carry valium in my wallet. When Bob had to go for an MRI of his back (Bob is a veteran of back surgery and, as we discovered during a tour of the underground Kotel tunnels, extremely claustrophobic) we requested an open MRI, which, incidentally, you can get in NY as easy as a slice of pizza. In Israel, the wait for open MRI is one year. And so we opted for the closed MRI, for which we got a middle of the night appointment 3 weeks later. The doc gave me two tablets of valium and told me to give Bob only one.
So why two?
In case things get really bad.
Bob was working hard on ‘mind over matter’ and got through the experience with the one tablet. And so I’ve got mother’s little helper in my wallet, sandwiched between my 2 licenses – the Israeli and the expired NY. In case things get really bad.

Any mother who’s missed several nights sleep with a baby running fever in the 40+ range knows how hard it can be to maintain a sense of humor while fighting off hallucinations of sleep. Add to that the stress of zig zag-ing between branches of the health clinic to catch the lab guy on the eve of Sukkot (read: streets blocked with sukkah parts, lulav vendors, bajillions of school children not in school) and the only laughter you will hear is that scary nervous laughter of a person on the brink of insanity.

When life was really hard…
There’s a story my husband tells about my father in law when he wants to illustrate the Israel of his father’s youth. It was Yom Kippur in 1947. Not unlike Yom Kippur in 2012, while the grown-ups were inside the shul praying, the kids were outside the shul running around. Except that my father in law, then 11 years old, and his friends stumbled upon a shell of a bomb. Not unusual in southern Tel Aviv in those days when tensions ran high between Jews, Arabs, and British. As the boys were playing with the shell, my father in law realized it was warm. He turned to tell his younger brother to get back, that it was going to blow up. As his brother ran, the shell exploded, killing two of his friends. My father in law, with his back still turned, miraculously, was okay, but his brother was standing just far enough away to be hit by the arc of shrapnel coming out of the bomb. As the story goes, my husband’s uncle, young and full of shrapnel, almost died. He needed life-saving antibiotics but there were none to be had. My father in law went to the black market and got the antibiotics. And saved his brother’s life again.

Things are different now. You can get antibiotics. But don’t be picky.
Not wanting to sound like that mother who thinks she knows better than the doctor but, inevitably, sounding like that mother, I said, “She was on penicillin two weeks ago. Isn’t there something about changing up the antibiotics?” Turns out, Israeli doctors know all about the changing up of the antibiotics. Except, “the antibiotic I want her to have has been unavailable for the last two months.” Unavailable at the local pharmacy? But I knew the answer. Unavailable in the whole aretz.

swirling thoughts #223 - It’s normal to have a strategy

Everyone’s got a strategy – depending on their situation.

For my kids, it’s how they’ll walk to school so that they are not more than a minute from a bomb shelter (go up the street behind the school because there are more houses - in case they need to run into one).

For me it’s how we will sleep in the house at night in Bob’s absence (Barbara in my bed;  if need be, she will grab the baby, I will grab Peetoosh, we will call to the others simultaneously to wake up and get down to the bomb shelter).

For my friend, it’s how her son will return to school in Qiryat Arba when there is stoning on the road (Egged bus with bullet proof windows and armed bus driver).

For a friend returning to Jerusalem from Sderot, after a morning full of missile attacks, it’s how best to exit the car should there be another a tzeva adom (red alert) siren blast while he is driving (seatbelt off until after Beer Sheva).

Thank God for family
I have spoken to our Tel Aviv relatives more in the past week than I have in the past 3 months.
In just one day:
Missile in Tel Aviv – yes, they’re okay.
Baruch Hashem.
Missile in Gush Etzion – yes, we’re okay.
Baruch Hashem.
Stoning on the road in Gush Etzion – yes, we’re okay.
Baruch Hashem.
Bus bomb in Tel Aviv – yes, they’re okay.
Baruch Hashem.

Actually, we’re all family
Every phone call from someone’s son or husband is celebrated by everyone within earshot and our collective breath is held indefinitely as we await word from sons and husbands who have not yet called.

I asked my brother if our mom ever canceled a dentist appointment because she didn’t want to risk having to jump out of the car on the highway in order to shelter us with her body in the event of a missile attack. It was a rhetorical question but it underlined a reality we are living here. The younger (read: more Israeli) children, seem to have a better handle on this nutty reality. One friend, distraught in her bomb shelter, was comforted by her four year old who reminded her, very matter-of-factly, “In the mamad we read books and say tehillim and stay safe, Eema.”  I’m not sure I can fully articulate our reality but our Tel Aviv cousin keeps trying.

To live here is to have a beautiful life in a beautiful land but also – sometimes – balagan (craziness). 

Peetoosh started every other sentence today with “When the bomb comes, I will…”.

Having a strategy is normal. Even when the situation is not.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Swirling Thoughts #222 - We’re fine, B”H

For four days my FB status read:
“My country is under attack. You will hear about it soon enough...when we retaliate.”
My country being Israel. Our attackers, Hamas and its supporters in Gaza. And on the fifth day we did retaliate. And so began Operation Pillar of Defense.

Everyone sent us their heartfelt support. But we’re out of rocket range, I kept telling them.  Don’t feel bad for us. Feel bad for my friends and neighbors whose husbands and sons and sons-in-law are being called to the front.

I wondered if my organic vegetable order would arrive from Ben’s Farm near Bet Shemesh Thursday after a day that included 3 killed in Kiryat Malachi and the first missile to reach Tel Aviv. When it showed up at 8pm my biggest concern was making sure I left time from my Friday Shabbat cooking to check my mustard greens and arugula for bugs.

I was consumed with my organic produce almost until candle-lighting. My mother in law called. I reassured her we were fine as I dealt with my leaves. She asked if our gas masks were in our bomb shelter. I joked that I had moved them to make room for some wine. I spoke to our cousins in Tel Aviv who assured me they were fine. I emailed my mom, as time was running out before Shabbat. We’re fine, I told her. Shabbat Shalom! And so we lit candles, me and my five girls. Asher and Bob made their way to shul.

I started cutting tomatoes into an endless bowl of greens. And suddenly we heard a siren. I screamed up to Barbara in the attic. Suddenly everyone was screaming. We tripped over each other scrambling down to the basement. We were in the bomb shelter. Also known as Bob’s office. But something was not right. It took me a minute but I figured it out. We needed to close the metal plates covering the window.
Barbara: Mommy!
Rosie: Close the window!
Peetoosh: I’m scared!
Becky: Eeeeemmmaaaaa!!!!!!!!!  We’re gonna DIE!!!!!!!!!!
And then they were closed. And then we heard a boom.
Me: Did you hear that?
Barbara: Yes! I heard it!
Becky: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
Rosie (hands over her ears): I have a headache! Make Becky stop screaming!
Peetoosh: What’s that noise?
Sarah was the only quiet one.

When Becky stopped screaming to catch her breath, Rosie whispered to me:
I know a perek of Tehillim by heart, Mommy.
Which reminded a suddenly quiet Becky that she knows a special blessing for the soldiers by heart.
And so we started praying and reciting tehillim.
Until Sarah started squealing and Barbara asked:
So how long do we have to stay in here?
Um… I have no idea.           

Slowly we ventured out.  
What if they shoot a rocket at us again?
My heart ached, thinking of families who endure this on a regular basis.
They probably don’t have so many rockets that can reach this far.
But what if they do?
We’ll go back in the shelter.
What if Aba and Asher are walking when there’s a siren?
They will go into a neighbor’s shelter.
What if I am walking in an open field and there is a siren?
Lay down, face to the ground, and cover the back of your head with your hands. Um, when are you going to an open field?
And, like this, we slowly we got back to normal. Sort of.
We talked about what to do if you are wheeling a patient in a hospital bed when the siren sounds. (Duck under the gurney but first place a pillow over the head of the patient!)

Asher and Bob came home and told us how half the shul stayed inside and half went outside to see if they could see the rocket. I cringed until Bob assured me he and Asher were part of the inside half.

Dinner was delicious and quiet, save for some outbursts of hysteria over how long we actually have once the siren sounds (“75 seconds?!…What if I’m in the shower!?”) The salad was totally worth all the effort.

Throughout Shabbat we heard about this one and that one called up for reserve duty. Bob couldn’t get over how normal the abnormal is here. I think it shook him to see his Israeli friends in uniform leaving their homes on a Friday night.

And after Shabbat one Tel Aviv cousin called to see if we were okay. And the reality became clear. We are now in rocket range.  In the same breath he told me about the 10 buses he saw picking up reservists but that I don’t have to worry because Hamas doesn’t have so many rockets that can reach this far. This seems to be the standard line of comfort. Who knows if it's true. He said they’ve never aimed at Jerusalem before but that this is how it is to live in Israel. The abnormal is normal. And that it will all be okay.

My kids went to school like normal today. One texted me a message about a new teacher getting her name wrong. My next text came from my good friend. Whose son just called her from the front to let her know he is turning off his cell phone now and will not be able to call again.