I’ve been training for this without realizing it: holding trauma in my heart while pretending I’m fine. It started with COVID and I’m scared at how good I’ve gotten at compartmentalizing my pain. I was terrible at it three years ago, but my kids were 1 and 3—and who could manage anything during COVID? In those early days, I was mainly concerned with the kids.
But as the world has continued to implode over the last few years, bit by bit, I’ve learned how to hold that pain in one hand while typing/packing lunches/giving a hug with the other. With every act of hate we’ve witnessed, and every natural disaster, I’ve fallen apart and picked myself up until falling turned to tripping and I learned how to catch myself.
Is this how all parents learn to be functional members of society? Somehow I don’t think it’s a natural rite of passage. It happens when you live through something really difficult while attempting to be a parent at the same time. It doesn’t help when that difficult thing lasts for an uncertain and long duration. I suppose at some point most parents do experience hardship, whether it’s personal or global, whether our kids are young or older. And, of course, it’s relative. There are many, many people whose journey into parenthood began with real hardship, and who did not have the luxury of starting out in a state of calm or joy or peace.
My kids are now 4 and 7. My daughter, the oldest, knows that something terrible happened on Oct. 7, but she’s young enough to not fully grasp (thank God) how terrible it really was. We found ourselves stopping for pizza on our drive home from a previously planned day trip on Oct. 7 when Hamas invaded Israel. They had big screen TVs at the restaurant, set to Fox News, and she’s a good reader.
“Turn around, please don’t watch this. It’s not OK,” I implored.
If I looked up at the screen, almost impossible not to, she turned and looked too. She giggled, uncomfortable with the knowledge that something serious was happening. It went on like that for a while. Finally we moved as far as we could from the screen and I did my best not to look.
Early that morning when she saw me crying, I told her, “I’m sad. There’s kind of a war happening in Israel. It’s dangerous.”
She didn’t respond. “Do you have any questions?”
“What about our family? Are they safe?” It was early, so we didn’t really know yet, but we believed most of my husband’s family in Israel were in secure places.
“We think so,” I said. Which turned out to be good enough.
And now we—because I assume this describes many of you, too—are several weeks into living in this strange duality. There’s the one where we are screaming and sobbing, on the inside or the outside. We feel an inextricable mix of rage and sadness and cannot get the images of those children, the hostages, out of our minds. Persistent thoughts of what being a mom in Israel is like right now. Outrage at what we can’t do to bring those children home. And all of the Palestinian children who have lost their lives. When we stop moving for long enough to think, when we have a rare minute of quiet, the pain is overwhelming.
And yet, for much of the day, I push it aside. Somehow, work is just work and everything is so normal it’s disorienting and guilt-inducing. It’s quiet. I discuss our clients’ problems and how to solve them, as though it matters. Because it does. I offer suggestions and strategize solutions. But, really, it’s a distraction from the reality that’s being lived in Israel and Gaza, and is reverberating around the world, including here—the one where Jews and Palestinians are not safe.
I have practiced being present and pushing my anger and pain to the storage room in the back of my brain so I can smile back at my son after he proudly shoots a soccer ball at the goal. So I can actually listen when my daughter offers up information about her day, or, better yet, her feelings. I can show up and focus at work and have two-way interactions with my friends. All while the tears simmer, waiting for the chance to escape.
With so little control in this world, I fall apart on my own terms. I decide when to read the news. I don’t watch it at all. I decide when to look at social media, which is dominated by both the news and our community’s reaction to it. I’m grateful for that connection, but I find it overwhelming. I decide when to talk about it. I’m not proud of this new life skill. But it allows me to close my eyes and actually sleep at night.
This is not to say that I—or we—are helpless. There are ways to give and to support Israel. There are ways to make your voice heard and participate in the solution. But in the face of unthinkable tragedies like the one we’re living through at this moment, when we’re in the thick of it and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, helplessness takes center stage.
We’re all finding our way and there’s no right way. If your kids are older, it’s a different ball game. You’re navigating when and how much to talk about what’s happening, and, hardest of all—what to say. No matter how old your kids are, or if you don’t have kids, it’s hard to be a Jew in the world right now. I don’t have the answers, but I know this: Even when all we hear is silence and it seems like the world is moving along when everything should stop, I know that we are in this together.
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