School children
The Israeli school year begins Monday August 27, 2012. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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It’s back-to-school season around these parts - kids across Israel will head back to their classrooms on Monday. As every mom knows, it’s a stressful time. Enter the shopping mall over the next few days at your own risk - you will encounter hordes of kids and parents on a desperate quest to find the perfect backpack and the ultimate pair of jeans.

The anticipation of a new school year brings a familiar anxious feeling in the pit of the parental stomach, at least to this one. It’s an utterly irrational desire to steer my kids in the right direction, a delusion that if I make the right decisions now, the whole year can be smooth and worry-free. If I make the wrong choice: and my kid ends up in the wrong algebra class or the bad soccer team or with the faulty backpack, it will be a nightmare. So I sweat the details, even while knowing how ridiculous this behavior is.

The important part is not to let the kids know that you are worried. Even as you stress, you try to maintain the reassuring facade of ‘No matter what happens, everything will be fine. We’ve got it all under control.’

And when it is clear that it will be an unavoidably difficult year, if they’ve got the notoriously sadistic algebra teacher or will have to play soccer with the local bully, you keep them - and yourself - calm, but repeating that you know it will be hard but you will get through it together.

After so many years of parenting, I feel like I know the drill. Information is power - try to make things as smooth as possible, and if you can’t change anything, at least make sure your kids are prepared. If you can’t have certainty, at least you can be ready.

But this year, there is one big question that I don’t have the answer to, and that no matter how reassuring and certain I try to sound, I’m not fooling my kids. The question, is, of course, whether or not an attack on Iran and an ensuing war in its aftermath will disrupt this school year.

The “broad and noisy public debate” over whether Israel should launch a strike to prevent a nuclear Iran may be very democratic. But make no mistake, like arguments between their parents, the kids hear every word. And what they are hearing is confusing and scary to them. They see the contradictory headlines, the conflicting opinions of leaders they are supposed to respect, and then, as usual, they turn to their parents to make sense of it. I want to do the usual -  tell them what to expect, assure them that everything will be fine, or, failing that, prepare them for the difficulties ahead. But when you can’t really make sense of it for yourself, when you personally have no clue as to what to believe, how are you supposed to do it for a 12-year-old?

There were so many solemn and certain predictions of a summer war, so much cultivation of public opinion back in the spring that Israelis were continually referring to “events that will happen in the summer.”  Everyone was joking that there was no point dieting to fit into their bathing suits in August to look good at the beach because they’d be stuck in their bomb shelters anyway.

Then nothing happened. (Presumably there were a lot of chubby beachgoers.)

Now we are hearing with similar certainty that it’s going to happen in ‘the fall.’ For sure. Either before the U.S. elections, for sure - or only after the elections - for sure. For sure - maybe. It gets to the point where you wish that the government would just be quiet. Launch a strike or don’t launch a strike, but for heaven’s sake, stop talking about it. Whatever happened to ‘loose lips sink ships?” Didn’t any of these leaders read “The Boy Who Cried Wolf?”

Don’t get me wrong: outright war and destruction are horrific, and I’m certainly in no hurry to get a war over with. I am supremely grateful that I am not living in a place like Syria right now. But this endless saber-rattling is no picnic, either. I understand democracy, and I also get the need for psychological warfare to keep our enemies on their toes. I’m no military expert and I have no idea whether this tough talk is helpful or destructive and I have no idea whether it is taking a toll on Iran’s psyche. But as a parent, I know that it is definitely taking a toll on ours - and on our children’s.