After the Army

RangersGirl (love that name) asked me an interesting question in one of her comments:

Elie is looking forward to moving in back at home after he is done with the Army? I would think that with the adult freedom he has had he’d want to strike out on his own with roommates. Or culturally, is that not what young adults do in Israel?

I’m superstitious by nature, afraid to think about after the army. I just want him to get through it all safely so we haven’t really talked about where he’ll go, what he’ll do. But, as coincidences go, we actually did talk briefly about it this past weekend. Elie has a friend who just got out of the army. He was supposed to leave for Mexico this week on an extended tour. We were talking about the Swine flu, and Elie explained that his friend succeeded in changing his ticket so he’ll spend a month touring the US instead of Mexico.

Many Israelis, once they finish the army, strike off for places unknown. Some go for months at a time; some for weeks. With a backpack and not much else, they head off to the farthest places they can think of going. They want to see things they have never seen, get away from the pressures and worries of life here. They want to forget what it’s like to carry a gun and have your every waking moment controlled for you. They want to forget what it is like to live in a small country, where always seems to be on the verge of something. They don’t want to think about missiles and rhetoric and threats. They just want to be free, like everyone else in the world.

There’s a dangerous element as well. Some feel they are invincible – after all, they think, haven’t they just survived three years in the army? The Israeli army? Perhaps they’ve been through war as well? Many have been through so much in those three years, seen so much, done so much and so they think they can handle anything, everything. They want to hear a language they don’t understand and see sights they never imagined. They want to be on a road that extends for miles and miles, compared to their little country of Israel.

And so they go. Many even look for Israel while they are away. Suddenly, they get homesick and want to hear Hebrew – and so they group together with others who understand that you can love this country and still need to be far away for a while. They’ll ignore the news and let their hair grow long (but when the radio announces something about Israel, their ears will perk up and they’ll listen). And, if a war breaks out, they’ll cancel it all and come running home, or at least call every day, or think and pray for their friends and family here. And then most will come home because the one thing they learn so far away, is that there is no place that makes so much sense to them as here; no place they need so much as Israel. With all its craziness, far away, they remember why they want to be so close.

So what will Elie do after the army? Where will he live? I don’t know. I guess I believe that after a certain age, trying to tell your child what to do simply doesn’t work. You can ask; you can beg. You can explain; you can reason. And then, they’ll do what they want, when they want, where they want. If you have been successful in how you have raised them, they may give you enough respect to listen and perhaps even do some of what you ask.

Elie is long past the age that I can force him to do anything, live where I tell him to live. He’ll have a home with me all his life – or perhaps I should say all of my life. At some point, he will, God willing, choose to make his home elsewhere, and still, my home will be his. There will be a room, a bed, something that he can feel is his.

Directly after the army, he may choose to go to university; he may choose to travel as others do (though I doubt he’ll go to some place exotic like Nepal or Thailand). We talked about his visiting his uncles and aunts and cousins in the States and after three years in the army, that’s something I would help him do.

Financially, he worked before he went into the army; we gave him some money; and each month the army pays him a small amount that he mostly saves. He gets clothes (well, if you can call the uniforms “clothes”); he gets free transportation on buses and trains anywhere in Israel (except Eilat, I think). He gets free food in the army and at home. In short, he has little for which he has to spend his money.

So, after the army, he’ll do what he wishes, go where he wants, and live where he wants. Perhaps in an apartment, perhaps initially with us. The army is a huge chunk of time in a young person’s life. There is a before, when they know the army is coming; and then there is the reality of being in the army. Somewhere, sometime, he’ll start talking about what comes after and I’ll listen.

For now, I focus on today and where he is and what he’s doing. On a good day, I can focus on just under two weeks from now when he’ll be home again and since another holiday is coming in just under four weeks, I can think that it looks like he’ll be home for that too.

The one important remaining comment I’ll make is that I try to give my children, according to their age and their maturity, the freedom they need. When they were infants, I held them all the time. I heard once that the more you hold them when they are young, the more they feel you’ll always be there and so the more free they feel to go, knowing they can always come back to you.

That sums up what I have tried to accomplish as a parent – go, and come back. You can be free by going far away, but you can also be free by staying close. What will Elie do after the army? I guess we’ll know…after the army.

4 Comments on After the Army

  1. David is already hankering to visit relatives in Brazil…….

  2. I have to tell you I am George Bailey at heart – – want to see the world, learn about other people and cultures. I would have to say, it is a comfort to know that you always have a place you can call home. I hope Elie goes on a grand adventure after the army.

  3. I’ve been reading your blog for a while. After I visited Israel I became immensely interested in the culture, came across your blog, and fell in love with the sincerity and humor in your writing. Back in America, its a welcome reprieve from the busy life of a college student.

    But this entry really caught my eye and I will be passing it along to my mother. I recently joined the Peace Corps and will be spending 2 years in Africa after I graduate from college. My mother could not be any less excited – although I know she’s trying. She knows that is the freedom I need, but I think it will mean a little more to her coming from another Mother.

  4. Anonymous // May 8, 2009 at 6:20 pm // Reply

    If he comes to the U.S. he can stay with us, actually we would want him to stay with us.

    This soldiers uncle

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