It was our youngest son’s birthday today. Everyone was home. My daughter and son-in-law walked down from their apartment. Things have been crazy at work; too many deadlines coming too fast with too many other things getting in the way. It was enough to cook Shabbat, making a birthday cake was more than I could handle, so Shmulik drove to the bakery and bought one – more on that one later.
He also went to the store to pick out a birthday present. I was thinking of a nice pillow, a blanket, a sweater. The reaction both Shmulik and Elie gave me made it clear that these are not the things of which 15-year-olds dream. And though Shmulik insists that a Ford Mustang would fit the bill nicely, we were looking for something a bit in between.
In some ways, my children are very blessed – books are something I buy them regularly – not birthday presents. Clothes are theirs for the asking (where there is a need) and this son really isn’t into clothes (yet). He has an iPod Touch and though the battery is fading, I’d rather try to get that one fixed than buy him a new one (I think we only bought it last year anyway).
In the end, we settled for a new basketball (it seems you can never have too many of those) and a battery-operated remote control car. I told Shmulik to buy balloons – I wasn’t clear enough, as I was hoping for a helium one but he got a package of regular balloons that we used to decorate the house instead.
But there were two funny parts to the weekend. The first was when Shmulik arrived, Davidi was just walking down the steps – the first thing, before I could say a word…Shmulik turned to Davidi and said, “Here.”
“Here” – not “happy birthday” – and certainly no attempt to gather the family. “Here.”
Davidi took his present in stride, happily went upstairs to charge the battery and even had time to play with it a bit in the back before Shabbat. It was yet another reminder how different our sons are as human beings than we are ourselves. And how they have grown. Once I would have orchestrated the moment – had the cake and everyone. The songs, the gifts…
I would have put it on the side, added a card, perhaps a bow. Shmulik goes for the simple. “Here.” It worked. It did, so I have no complaints. But it was one of those melancholy moments in your life. The other funny moment came at lunch when we took the cake out. “Uh oh,” Shmulik said, “it smells like coffee.”
I am not, nor have I ever been, a coffee-lover. I don’t drink it, don’t smell it. “Didn’t you ask them what was inside?” I asked.
“They said chocolate.”
Over a discussion of its contents, Davidi cut the first piece and pulled it out – vanilla. Not chocolate, but luckily, though it was loaded with creme, it appears not to have been coffee. It worked – again, not as I would have wished totally, but it worked. Over the years, I’ve made Davidi trains, soccer fields, cars, bears, clowns, and I’m not sure what else. It doesn’t matter really, who made the cake or what was in it so much as the family gathered around the table. The truth is that I feel guilty I didn’t make him this cake.
The balloons are still on the wall, though many have been removed and were kicked around during the day. The remaining pieces of the cake are in the refrigerator. Davidi and Shmulik went outside with the remote control car; and played basketball as well. How is it possible that he is 15-years-old already? He was the first one born in Israel, he will, God willing, be my last soldier (not including grandchildren and others I may adopt along the way).
Already he is taller than I am, stronger too. He’s got Elie’s blue eyes – he was God’s way of telling me that whatever fears I had about Elie being our natural son were stupid and unfounded. It was, in some twisted way, a logical fear. We all have brown eyes – my husband and me, our siblings and parents, even our grandparents. It comes down to one distant relative on each side – enough to have given two of my children blue eyes. The first was Elie and a part of me worried that they had somehow switched infants in the hospital.
Years later and half a world away – God gave me Davidi with those same beautiful eyes. “He’s yours, you silly person,” I could almost hear from the Heavens. Yes, he is mine – and today he is 15-years-old, a year more away from his birth, a year closer to his future.
And somewhere deep inside me, as an Israeli mother, I know that that future comes with a uniform. I accept it, even now. I have friends who tell me that long ago, they served in the army with the belief, deep in their hearts, that they were serving so that their children wouldn’t have to. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” my friend told me when her son entered the army. “They weren’t supposed to take him.”
In that sense, it was easier for me – I never suspected otherwise. I knew they would go into the army. I just didn’t know really what that meant. Going on four years now as a soldier’s mother, I understand today’s birthday is one more milestone towards that day when Davidi too will wear a uniform. I know so much more than I did back then. I know the stages -from start to finish. I know that what the army tells you means nothing until it happens, that it can change in a flash.
I know so much and still my stomach falls at the thought that this son too will carry a gun, learn to shoot, to defend, to fight for his country. Too much for a mother of a 15-year-old to contemplate; too much, to be honest, for a mother of a child of any age.
Fifteen years ago, I held my first native born Israeli child in my arms. He has grown in the land and sun of Israel and towers above me. May God always bless him with happiness, with health, with friends, with a mind so quick and sharp, with arms so strong and legs so fast. May God bless him always with a smile that goes straight to my heart and eyes that pierce my soul. May God bless him this day and every day until the age of 120, with life.