Shmulik left for the army today. I drove him to the nearby mall, picking up another soldier along the way. I got there just as a bus pulled up behind me and both boys jumped on the bus. I drove home, checked email and a bit later, my 9:00 meeting arrived…a friend who needs some help with a business plan.
Within minutes (just after I gave my friend a cup of coffee, luckily), Shmulik called, “Ima, I have a problem.”
When your son calls, and you hear his voice, the concept of “problem” doesn’t terrify you. My first thought was that he’d missed his connecting bus, “What’s the problem?” I asked.
“I’m wearing bet pants.”
Long ago, I learned that there are two kinds of uniforms. Aleph (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) are dress uniforms – made partially of polyester. They aren’t terribly comfortable, but they always look quite nice and barely wrinkle. You wear Aleph off base – travel from home to base and base to home, on culture days, ceremonies, etc. Bet (the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet).
Military police are positioned at key locations on days when soldiers are known to be returning home or to base…all to catch any misbehavior (or a soldier not properly in uniform). “Ask Elie if it’s a problem,” he told me.
I woke Elie up…and he agreed to drive to Jerusalem to meet Shmulik near the pick-up point where thousands of soldiers gather and are taken by bus directly to their bases. I grabbed the Aleph pants that had slipped off the line and Elie was off.
He met Shmulik with some time to spare. Shmulik climbed into the car, they drove around to the side, Shmulik changed into Aleph pants…and was off. Elie came home with a smile.
“If his commanding officer doesn’t laugh too much, Shmulik will be fine,” he told me. “It’s a mistake only a new soldier can make.”
There are messages, I explained to Elie, that a boy, a soldier, must learn. Shmulik is on a new path – he will learn that a new soldier is forgiven many things. Had he gone to base wearing the wrong pants, he would likely not have been punished, and his commanding officer might well have laughed. It is not a serious error – such as forgetting one’s gun or failing to follow an order. Beyond what he will learn about the army and how it rates its requirements, there is another lesson that Shmulik may learn from today…when he has a problem, he can call home and if we can help him, we will.
Today, we went running to help Shmulik over something that wasn’t really that important on the scale of things the army might consider relevant…except that it was very important to Shmulik, as a new soldier, that he follow the rules.