It’s a silly start of the journey, perhaps in many ways a false beginning. When Elie got his first call to the army, it didn’t faze me. I drove him to the Recruitment Office in Jerusalem but I didn’t go it. His induction was months away; I must have known that even then. I dropped him off and went to work. Mothers don’t go in. It’s an agreement we have, unspoken but there.
They walk in there alone, these babies of ours; the first of many steps where they leave their mothers behind because they are babies only in our minds. In their eyes and in the army’s mind, they are men or, if not men, boys on the brink of manhood. It is only we mothers (and perhaps the fathers) that see the little boy we cradled and watched grow. He walks in like a man; we remember how old he was when he began to crawl.
The man walks in and the boy stays outside with us. We want the boy to remain, knowing we are watching him slip away. Even he isn’t on our side. He’s with the army – as anxious to become a man as the army is to make him one. They’ll win this battle every time – the boy and the army. They did it before; they are doing it now. They’ll do it to my little boy who is taller than everyone else in the family.
Elie went; Shmulik went…Yaakov and Chaim went…and this one is crippling me. It’s so stupid. It really is. I can out logic myself. My heart looks at my brain and thinks how stupid it is. This is a mother’s heart, you silly brain. Stop with your logic.
You know you are being dumb, says the brain with a sneer. Davidi is 17, though I can’t really tell you when that happened because to me he’s still that gorgeous three year old with those huge blue eyes.
He’s a January baby, among the oldest in his class and he’s only in 11th grade. The army begins drafting at 18, but when Davidi turns 18, he’ll be in the middle of his senior year in high school. The earliest the army would draft him would be the rotation after he finishes in June of next year. That alone is 18 months or so away. Tomorrow is really nothing, the brain explains to the heart.
You aren’t telling me anything I don’t know, the heart answers back and reminds the brain that it knew Davidi was a boy long before the brain was told. It knew we were expecting a baby before the test results came in; it even knew that he would look like Elie when all the others had dark eyes and dark hair. It was the heart that said this one would have blue eyes like Elie.
The brain quoted genetics and said a baby’s eyes can change up to three years. The heart knew they would stay blue – and they did. It was the heart that sang first, smiled first, cried first, when he was born. The boy may always become a man, but the brain will never win a war with the heart; logic has no place when your baby is going to the Recruitment Office in the morning.
Most religious boys take a year or two and go to either Hesder (a combination of learning and military service – as Shmulik did) or Mechina – a preparatory academy of learning and physical training before doing the full three years of military service (as Elie did). Like Elie and Shmulik, Davidi will probably be 19 or even 20 before his actual induction, before he is given a uniform…and a gun. I have time before I have to fear; time before Davidi’s roller coaster leaves the station (do roller coasters leave stations?). That’s the brain in me. The rest of me isn’t working nearly as well.
Tomorrow, they’ll test him, check him out physically. They’ll begin to learn the boy behind the man they will construct. What does he like? Where are his talents? Where should he serve in the army? I don’t know what else.
With Elie I wondered if they would discover the leader inside the boy – and they did. They made him a commander despite his thinking he wanted to be a medic.With Shmulik, I wondered if they’d find the smile, the sweetness, and they did. He served with a commanding officer that to this day has a special place in his heart for Shmulik.
There is a depth to Davidi that is only now beginning to come through. He’s a genius when it comes to math. In second grade, they finally accepted that he was very advanced and put him in a fourth grade class. He was explaining fractions and negative numbers years ahead of schedule. What does this mean for the army? Will they find this? Use it? Develop it? Will they find inside the boy the roots of the man we have yet to see?
I’ve done this before and yet it seems so new. And as I start this contemplation again, there’s a secret I carry inside me. I don’t want the army to take this son – there, I’ve said it. I don’t, screams the heart in a language as ancient as motherhood. You do, answers the brain in a voice that is loud and insistent. You do, so stop being so stupid.
The heart is never stupid, says the heart and the brain looks back in frustration. Smart enough not to argue with the heart because there is no arguing; frustrated enough to try, one last time to explain that tomorrow is just the beginning and really not much of a beginning at that.
They’ll come to an agreement, my heart and my brain. They always do. It is Davidi’s responsibility as an Israeli and the man they build will be better, stronger, smarter, than the man he would likely be without this service. My heart doesn’t want to hear this, though it accepts it as truth. He will serve, this third son of mine. The first of my children to be born in Israel – my first sabra. No one can ever say this is not his land; the land of his birth.
Davidi wants to be a paramedic. He’s been volunteering for a year now with the local ambulance squad and he just finished (and passed) the next level that allows him to now volunteer on the intensive care ambulance.
He’s gone to the doctor to get his medical form signed. He has all the paperwork and he’s going to go there and they are going to ask him if he is willing to serve in a combat unit and he’s going to say yes and my heart and brain know enough to be silent and let him choose his path.
They are going to see that he is tall and so beautiful. He’d kill me if he heard me say that about him…no, he wouldn’t kill me. That’s a silly word to use in a world that knows such violence. But there is no violence in him; he’s not violent at all. He loves animals, as Shmulik does; he saves lives as both his brothers, his older sister and his sister-in-law have. He’s so smart.
I don’t want to do this again. There, I said it here where I’m allowed to say it.
Tomorrow is coming so fast and then when it gets here, it will slow down and drag for hours until he calls me to tell me how it went. I know what happens there – but it isn’t really about tomorrow, it’s about the journey. I have friends who have had more than one son involved in a war at a time. I don’t, for the life of me, know how they stay sane. I’m blessed that my sons are far enough apart in age to have me avoiding that reality. Elie went out the week Shmulik went in; Shmulik officially finishes this summer…it will be at close to two years before Davidi goes in. I still have time.
Tomorrow Davidi will begin the journey where he will become David. I’m going to have to change his name in my mind; let go of the little boy’s name that stays in my heart.
The man is coming closer, walking towards me, demanding I accept him, love him, recognize him. He’s already there inside the boy. I saw him a few weeks ago when he was telling me about an ambulance run with an old woman whose family had given a non-resuscitation order. He’s there, that man and though I can’t tell Davidi, I don’t want to meet him, not yet. I don’t. Maybe that’s part of what I’m afraid of…not the journey after all…
Tomorrow the man will walk into the Recruitment Office; I just hope my boy will walk out with him for a bit longer.