Many mornings I rise at dawn to walk the hushed streets of my neighborhood, just over the D.C. line in Maryland. I walk before my three children are out of bed, before traffic starts and sometimes before my morning newspaper arrives.
On Thursday morning, as I put on my blue rain jacket and opened the front door, I hesitated. It wasn't the cold March rain or the icy breeze. I stopped because the day felt ominous. The skies were gray and they looked lethal. I pictured the empty streets of Baghdad at sunrise, which I had witnessed on television the night before. Not a soul was out, save for a lone car every few minutes.
The war had begun, with the dropping of bombs from America on an ancient desert city along the Tigris, and I had the luxury of casually placing my foot out the door without fear.
Or did I?
Before Sept. 11, 2001, no war had been fought on American soil since the Civil War. Since then, attack at any moment, at any time, is possible.
This is what an Iraqi mother must feel and must have felt for as long as she could remember.
About dinnertime the night before, my neighbors heard fighter jets roaring overhead. All through the night and into the morning, the jets maneuvered the skies over Washington. The cloud cover hid their movement, though not their sound.
One friend said she knew something was about to happen.
By 9:30 p.m. I was propped up in my bed watching Baghdad. My 11-year-old daughter came in to show me some new bit of information she had found for her school project on medieval castles. She told me what lords and ladies had worn. She said the rich wore different colors for different moods.
She shifted her attention to the television. "What is this, Mom?" she asked.
She lay down beside me and stayed there until after President Bush's speech. The president named his battle with Iraq "Operation Iraqi Freedom," something similar to what he called the war in Afghanistan ("Operation Enduring Freedom"). Phrases to make the whole pursuit more palatable, or perhaps just a Madison Avenue gimmick. The slogan didn't make it any easier for my daughter. She went to sleep with a heavy heart.
I, on the other hand, felt a great release of tension. After months of wrangling and back-and-forth among world leaders, it was as though the air in a balloon had finally built up enough pressure to burst.
Pundits say to carry on with your normal life. The Post put out a special section telling me how to stay safe, create a comfort zone, where to buy gas masks and which ones, and what meals to serve for three days if I were holed up in the basement behind plastic sheeting and duct tape with my family.
"The best advice I learned was to serve what your kids will eat," a friend said. Her husband had stocked up on baked beans and hot dogs. She went to Trader Joe's and bought dried meals with names such as "Instant India."
I'm not there yet. The notion is bizarre for me. Iraqis squirreled away food, water, gasoline and other supplies for days before the bombing started. I have two gallons of water in my basement that I bought during a previous Code Orange alert. I can't bring myself to follow through with any more preparation.
This is life during modern warfare, and I'm not putting up much of a fight. I had stepped outside that morning, quietly drawing my door shut and walking down the hill from my house, feeling not so free.
Laura Hambleton is a writer in Chevy Chase.