Not for Elie this time, he’s just fine. In the Commanders Course in the south, doing well, eating well. Safe. I sleep at night and only worry when I allow my mind to think of training accidents or the fact that he said he knees were bothering him from all the training, but Elie’s good. Elie’s safe.
Months before he entered the army, much more actually, he received a note from the army calling him to a day of testing. It’s a full day of mental and physical testing for those who will enter as combat soldiers. It is the start of a road the lets the army (and the boy) choose which division, which path, his national service would take.
With Elie, the day at a major national sports center was almost fun – it was a day away from 12th grade, a day off from study. If I remember correctly, I even drove him part way so he didn’t have to hassle with several buses. The army was well into the future; it was just a day off. Maybe it was even exciting.
Yesterday, in the mail – we got the call for Elie’s 17-year-old brother to go to the full day of testing and this time, this time my stomach started to churn. “No, you can’t have another one now,” I almost said out loud.
It’s a silly thought. First, because the army can have him, and they will (God willing). Second, he isn’t going into the army that fast. Like Elie, I will encourage him to take a year and study and/or prepare. They are better for that year, more disciplined, more mature. One of Elie’s teachers, who had served in a “special unit” once told me that the army had a simple way of dealing with recruits, “they break them, and then they build them back up, stronger, better, more mature.”
“But I don’t want my son broken,” I almost cried. “I like him like he is.”
“Then don’t give him to the army at 18. Give him a year of preparation.”
And that’s what Elie did. That year and a half prepared him for what the army would do so that he could understand the psychological reasons, as well as the physical. So he could meet the challenges without it breaking him. He, and the army, were better for that time.
So, it wasn’t the impending entrance that got to me and it wasn’t really the single day Elie’s brother will spend in a few months. It was that feeling you have just before you go on a roller coaster, that knowledge that your life is about to go up and down and twirl around outside your control. It’s exciting. It’s breath-taking. It’s wonderful…but you wish the line would move a little more slowly. You wish you’d considered taking another ride first.
No, I’m not ready for a second son to go into the army. And, fast along those lines, comes the thought that I never will be. I wasn’t “ready” for Elie to go into the army. I simply followed along, and the army gently took me through what I needed to know.
Or came to our house and explained; he answered our stupidest of questions with patience and a smile. We were invited to see where our son was, what he was doing and allowed to celebrate those milestones with him. They told him to call us; they sent him home to us often. He explained. He shared. We learned. We understood. We accepted, and we watched in awe as the man he is becoming took shape from the boy we had raised.
I had thought, until yesterday, that having gone through this with Elie, having become a seasoned soldier’s mother (don’t laugh too hard at that one), I could handle, even with ease, a second son and then a third son entering the army. I was so wrong. One day later, with the paper staring at me from the board above my computer, I now know another army truth.
A mother is never ready to see her son into the army. Each will be as shocking as the first time. No, I’ll never be ready for him to go off that first day. No, I won’t relax until I get that first call at night. I’ll wait for his first weekend at home and wonder what he is doing, what he is feeling, what he is thinking. I’ll have night terrors with him too and worry what our enemies have planned and where my son is at any given moment.
It’s all a lie. A blog won’t help me be calm; experience with one son won’t help with the second or the third. The roller coaster tosses you every time you take the ride and knowing its twists and turns doesn’t stop you from taking the deep, terrified breathe as you know it is about to take you through the steepest dives, the longest ascents.
And the greatest truth of all is that my second son, like my first and some day like my third (God willing), will become a soldier in the army of Israel and I will watch each, worry about each, love each. Each will never know my terrors and fears (or I’ll fool myself into believing that), but they will know my love and my pride.
In two months, my second son will spend a day in the hands of the army. They’ll learn his likes and dislikes, his preferences and abilities. They took Elie, a boy so much more capable than his academic scores alone might have shown, and pegged him so perfectly. They’ll do the same with Shmulik. Then he’ll come back home and I’ll put it all aside, until another letter comes telling him what division, what day. I’ll buy him gray socks and green undershirts. I’ll take him to the drop off point with a quick kiss and a smile and let him go, and spend the rest of the day thinking of him.
My second son has also chosen to go into a combat unit. I will deal with this. I will take a deep breath and let it out slowly (and then I’ll take a few more). I’m going to leave that letter right above my head and look at it for the next two months and send him off with a smile, and maybe some homemade cookies. That is all a soldier’s mother can do and that’s what I’ve become, that’s the role the army has given to me.
It was my dream to come to Israel, to bring my sons here. And now, as each goes to serve this nation, I have to do my part too. But first I’ll take a few more deep breaths. It isn’t quite time for the roller coaster to start…we’ve only just received the ticket and are standing at the start of the line.