I know that there will be others, and there already are, but here’s my first rule:
Rule #1: Grab the moment!
It probably applies to everything in life, but with a son in the army, this becomes an imperative. I had mentioned to Elie that I was going to my client in the north today and would be driving near his base. I almost called him in the morning, but not knowing his schedule exactly, I was afraid to wake him as I drove by the exit to his base. “Wave, Elie,” I wanted to tell him. “I’m so close.”
But I kept going, arrived and began working. Shortly after 2:00 p.m., as I was close to finishing the two technical documents that needed to be delivered today, Elie called.
“Ima, are you in Netanya?”
“Yes,” I told Elie already wondering if there was a way that I could get to see him, “do you need anything?”
The short story is that he was going on duty at the checkpoint this evening and was free till then. The slightly longer story is that he asked if I wanted to come buy and pick up his laundry. The longer story is that I asked if he wanted me to stop in the supermarket and he said, “Sure, could you bring me some ice tea?”
Of course, I didn’t ask him to define “some” and of course the store was having a sale, so I bought him 6 liters of ice tea, 2 bags of Doritos (two flavors, of course), two bags of mini-chocolate bars (the second was 50% off, so it would have been really silly not to have taken two), and a few other things. I filled one of these new green bags (the ones Israelis will be using as soon as the law passes requiring supermarkets to charge for plastic bags) and placed it in the trunk of the car.
I drove to Elie’s base, calling him a few minutes before I got there so that he could make his way to the gate to meet me and sure enough, he was there when I pulled in front. “That’s mine,” I thought as he walked up, “and he’s so beautiful.”
No, I didn’t say it. You can’t joke and say “he’d kill me” about someone with a gun, but yes, he would most certainly not be laughing were I to tell him what I was thinking. But I’ve become an expert at not saying these things, of staring at him without him noticing, of listening and trying to record it all in my brain.
“Can you pop the trunk?” he said as he approached the rear of the car to put his dirty laundry in the trunk.
“Already did,” I said without a trace of the happiness and emotions I was feeling. I’d cheated the system, grabbed the moment, and gotten to see my son for a few extra minutes! I watched as Elie rounded the car, opened the trunk and put the bag in.
“That’s for you,” I said, pointing to the bag I’d just put in a few minutes before. “The ice tea was on sale.”
The bag was filled to the brim. “Wow,” Elie said as he caught a glimpse inside. That simple, but enough to make a mother’s heart soar.
“You better share with the others,” I told him. “You’ll be sick to your stomach if you try to eat that yourself.”
We talked for a few minutes about where he’ll be stationed. They are moving the boys around again. For part of the time, he’ll be at a checkpoint that is accessible to Israelis. Right now, he’s further in, closer to a Palestinian city, in an area where Israeli civilians might be in danger, or at least more exposed. As far as I know, the only non-Arab Israelis who have taken that road and arrived at Elie’s current checkpoint were the women from Tel Aviv.
Where now I have to coordinate a brief visit to the outside of Elie’s base with the times when he is off-duty (i.e. not at the checkpoint), starting next week, I could simply drive down the road a little before Elie’s base, and see him.
We talked about the upcoming holidays and possible times when Elie might be out of the army. The holidays fall during the week this year so Elie will celebrate most of them on base. He said there was a chance that the army might play around with the dates, but no one knows for sure, and so that brings me to close with rule number two.
Rule # 2: Never, never, never count on anything until it happens.
We were standing out in the sun. I noticed Elie had a bit of a sunburn. “Can’t you use sunscreen?” I asked, knowing that he never would. Considering how much he is outside, the little red on his neck wasn’t really that big a deal and is probably as much from sweat as from the sun. He needed to rest anyway and it was getting late and traffic was building. All good reasons why it was time to say goodbye.
He thanked me again and turned to the gate.
“Hey, I get a kiss don’t I?” I mean, on the scale of motherhood, 4 bottles of ice tea and 2 bags of Doritos, not to mention those 40 or so small chocolate bars that I assume they’ll be feasting on later today should amount to a simple peck on the cheek, right?
I got my kiss. I gave one back. “Take care. Be careful,” I said as I watched him turn and walk back to the gate. We are old hands at this after a year and a half. Tonight, as I write this, he is standing out there again and I’m sitting here thinking about him standing there.
Where once there was fear, there is now comfort and confidence. Not too much to obliterate the worry entirely. Last week, as Muqata pointed out in one of the comments on the blog, an Arab woman threw acid on a young soldier at a checkpoint. Today, a soldier was stabbed and his weapon stolen about 15 minutes from where I live.
No, you can’t be overconfident, but you can accept and enjoy the moments you grab and the times you are calm. Calm enough to smile at the thought of him sitting there munching away on the chocolate and Doritos while drinking ice tea.