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OpinionGuest Columnist

One-and-a-half minutes

When the sirens sound in Israel, this young mother has 90 seconds to act: "I didn’t grow up with the gas masks and bomb shelters like my husband. This is his normal, not mine."

Keren Rosenfeld and her children (Photo courtesy of Keren Rosenfeld)
Keren Rosenfeld and her children (Photo courtesy of Keren Rosenfeld)

Ninety seconds is my new measure of time. I have a lot to accomplish in those precious seconds these days. At night, within 90 seconds I have to put on shoes; grab my sleeping 4-year-old and a few pillows; take her to the stairwell outside our apartment hoping she stays asleep so I can lay her down then run back to grab my 2-year-old; not forget a house key; and then wait.

I wait patiently, still. Calm to keep my baby girl calm. Calm while the siren wails and the inevitable BOOM crashes overhead, shaking the doors, but never shaking my core. I remain still. I wait for the sirens to stop. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they continue, preceding another series of BOOMS. During the day, I also grab an iPad so the kids can focus on something else.

This part isn’t so bad. A 90% Iron Dome success rate means that not having a safe room or bomb shelter in my building leaves us fairly safe. You just pray you aren’t at the wrong place in the 10% margin of error. Like that guy three miles away….

The hard parts are the moments before. And the moments after. I didn’t grow up with the gas masks and bomb shelters like my husband. This is his normal, not mine. He is a sea of calm in this mayhem. But his sea was swept off to protect others when he was called up for Air Force Reserve duty. So I must be the calm. Alone.

The before parts include running logistics. Making sure my phone is charged and nearby. Deciding how far we can wander from home. Determining if there is a shelter near the playground, or the grocery store. Which child should I grab first? Should I carry them both? Can I risk grabbing a shower while alone with the girls? What if while giving them a bath a siren goes off? Are 90 seconds enough to rise, throw on towels, grab the girls and sit in the hall? Will I have time to put a diaper on the baby? Remember to stay calm, or at least appear calm.

They’re young, so they don’t ask questions. They seem fine. I hope they’re fine.

The after parts include not being able to fall asleep. Sleep. I can’t remember real sleep anymore. Being woken up three or four times a night by sirens, and then a few more times by phantom sirens. Motorcycles sound like sirens sometimes. Ambulance sirens make my heart beat faster. I am constantly looking for sturdy walls that face north, away from where the rockets come from. I never let my girls wander more than four feet away in case I need to grab them and run. The after parts sucks.

I’ve always been independent. I traveled the world alone. But being alone with two little girls is different. After two nights alone, we moved in with friends. I can admit it when I am in over my head. The kids thought it was camp. The adults made plans: One mom grabs the two older kids, then the others grab the babies and head for the stairs. We stay until I miss home.

The sirens have stopped, but I still hear them sometimes. I still keep my showers short and leave the window open, so I can hear a siren just in case. But the knot in my stomach hasn’t gone away. My husband is still away. I try not to think about it too much. I have other things to focus on. I’ve gotten used to balancing work and entertaining the kids thanks to COVID. I still don’t sleep well.

I’m lucky. Thirty minutes south they have 15 seconds. PJC

Keren Rosenfeld is a native Pittsburgher living with her husband and two young daughters in Tel Aviv, Israel.

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