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Fighting terror with a teddy bear

Combating the unbearable reality of terror through play

“There are people who don’t want us to live here,” I told my five year old son yesterday. “They sometimes attack Jews in the streets. So we need to talk about what we should do if it happens to us.”

I know, I know. Countless psychology books state that we shouldn’t scare our children this way. Keep up appearances, they say. Hide your fears from your children. Be responsible. Maintain your routine. Fake a feeling of normalcy.

But the very same school of thought tells us to warn our kids against potential molesters. “If someone touches you,” countless books advise us to tell them, “run straight home. If someone asks you to accompany him or her to a secluded spot, scream and run. Never keep secrets from mommy and daddy. When you hear ‘let’s not tell your parents,’ insert ‘let’s tell’.”

Is terror truly any different? Every night, I lie awake in bed, trying NOT to imagine possible scenarios. And every night, my mind conjures the same horrifying image: Me, fighting a guy with a knife, yelling at my kids to run away. Them, clinging to me, paralyzed and scared, dooming us all.

If you want to prepare your kids to face potential abusers, talking isn’t enough. At the moment of truth, they won’t follow any well-explained principles. They will follow their instincts, the habits that practice and hormones ingrained into their blood.

They will freeze.

They will become mute with shock.

Or they will do something rash. My son, for one, suggested trying to fight potential abusers on his own.

Various educational sources recommend altering our children’s instincts through play-acting. They suggest to touch our children and have them yell “let me go” at the top of their voices. They recommend enacting escapes, time and time again, until the instinct to run becomes enmeshed in our children’s psychology.

And so, after several sleepless nights and one grim resolution, I decided to play-act. Our white fluffy teddy bear became a terrorist with a knife, complete with a funny hat, because children. My son dressed up as Spider-man, just to spice things up, and did an admirable job of running whenever the teddy bear “attacked” us. And I faked a jovial mood, and despite my lack of costume, got to be the real super-heroine of the moment.

I’ll have you know that I overpowered our ursine assailant every. single. time.

I dare even Quentin Tarantino to come up with an empowerment-fantasy as painless.

Later, sitting on the floor among discarded toys and costumes, the ridiculousness of the whole enterprise suddenly caught up with me. Somewhere in Jerusalem, I thought, parents are mourning. Wounded kids are struggling for their lives. Young men and women are throwing their future away in the name of indiscriminate hatred. And here I am, playing with a teddy bear and a Spider-man costume, pretending that we can ever be ready to face the unimaginable.

Then again, I thought and sat up somewhat straighter, maybe playing ridiculous games isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Maybe turning terror into mock-practice is actually good for our sanity, good for our resilience to fear.

Maybe, while preparing my children for reality, I made this reality somehow more bearable for me.

And maybe, since we can’t know what will happen to us tomorrow, we might as well laugh and play and be silly with the ones we love…while we can. And pray for many more hours like this, for us and for everyone else: For those who are merely scared, like us, and, please God, also for those who were wounded and hurt.

My dad always said that laughing got him through his incarceration in Soviet Russia. I guess it’s our turn to try the same method.

“Ima,” said my son, “can we play again? But can I be the one fighting the teddy bear this time?”

“Sure thing,” I told him, this time with a genuine jovial smile. “Lead the way.”

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and speaker who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, parenting and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and Kveller, and explores storytelling in the bible as a teacher and on 929.
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