I’ve seen the videos of the songs children in Sderot sing as the Tzeva Adom (Red Alert) siren goes off. “My heart is beating boom boom boom boom boom… but I am overcoming because I am a little different… falling down – boom – but now we may stand up…” the song goes. I’ve been to Sderot before and seen the shelters and heard the residents’ stories. But I’ve never talked to the children.
We walked into a kindergarten classroom and sat cross legged on the floor waiting for the students to come join us. One little boy immediately reminded me of myself – a little shorter than some of his classmates, a little bit klutzy, but undeniably happy to be in school. I motioned for him to come join me and asked him his name and age.
Mai was four-years-old and very excited to open the toy car I had in my hands. I spent the morning watching him roll that toy car back and forth in their play area outside, discover the joys of the Play-Doh ice cream set and run around with the mini wheelbarrow gathering sand.
He was no different than any four-year-old I have been a counselor for or ever babysat. Except when I looked around his classroom and school and asked him if he knew where to go during a Tzeva Adom siren he nodded his head and pointed where he would run. And then he put his head down and went back to games.
It occurred to me that in the summer of Operation Protective Edge, just a few years ago, he was barely a toddler. I remember being totally taken aback during that summer hearing of hospitals delivering children in bomb shelters and the first sounds those newborns heard was the sound of the Tzeva Adom. But to be an infant/toddler is even harder for me to imagine.
How were Mai’s parents supposed to explain to him what that sound means? How were they supposed to make sure he was always able to make it to a shelter in time? How is it okay for this to be the norm for any child?
As I return to school this semester I am taking a class in child psychology. The syllabus says we will talk about normal child development from infancy through adolescence. Topics covered will include infant perception, early physical and psychological reasoning and conceptual development. Every word I read on the syllabus made me think of Mai and his friends and the town of Sderot.
I would love if there was some quick-fix to the reality of life in towns like Sderot, and yet unfortunately that is not the case. But I do know, that everything I learn this semester in this course, and even every time I am around a young child, I will think of Mai and the children in that kindergarten.