Another “mother moment” is the first time you see your son in uniform. Until that moment, all this talk, all this preparation is just that – just talk.
He’s so handsome in the uniform, so proud, so strong. These are the first thoughts. It’s real, it’s green, he’s mine. These and other feelings flood you within seconds.
You try not to stare. You try to act normal. He hasn’t been home in 10 days but these 10 days are among the most significant we have yet experienced because he left here as our Elie, and returned…well, as our Elie, but also a soldier. The boots, the beret, it’s all there. With his triumphant return home, more details come to light about what he will be doing over the next few years. It’s a calming effect, to have your son back at home.
To see he is the same, though very concerned about how his boots shine, how his uniform washes. He shows us his dog tags – and gives more details than a mother needs to know about what they are for, how many, etc.
He’s starving and needs food. Later he tells me the food is quite good and certainly plentiful on the base – but it is a mother’s instinct to offer food and a son’s way of feeling at home. He’s very tired and wants to sleep – but he’s happy and calm and that goes a long way in making us realize that the next few years can be survived, one day and one week at a time.
Today he returned for a one-day exercise and he’ll sleep at home again tonight. He left early this morning and later his commander came to visit. This is another thing I was not expecting. With infinite patience, he came and explained much of what Elie has already told us: the daily routine, the basic training, where he will go from here, what he will be doing. I didn’t ask how old his commanding officer was, though I can now guess that he is at most a year older than Elie. This is where Elie might be in a year or two from now – making visits to “his” troops, suggests Ohr. Elie has many options for what he can do in the army: one is to take a “commander’s course,” and another is to enlist for an additional period of time and go for officer’s training.
Many of our questions were answered based on Ohr’s personal experiences. More than anything else, this visit told us that we are now part of a great family, one we’ve wanted to join for many years and didn’t know how.
We moved to Israel more than 14 years ago, ready to be “Israeli.” It was almost all that we wanted and within a short time, we began to believe that it simply wasn’t possible. As much as we tried, there was a history missing. We fit in…but only to a certain point.
Culturally, we were different in many ways and have begun, in the last few years, to accept that we would always be seen as separate to some extent. It can depress you, if you let it. But the better thing to do is accept it and move on. This is what we have done – until today, when this young Israeli soldier walked into my home and accepted us as Israelis – as part of the family of Tzahal, the IDF. This was the missing key. A son in the army makes you one of “them.” We are experiencing something that each Israeli family goes through and the army will help us get through it. We aren’t alone. Ohr will answer all our questions and tell us what we need to know to help our son.
He told us that Elie is adapting well, making friends and will make a good soldier, even potentially an officer. When the short visit is over, I offered to drive Elie’s commander to the local mall where he can catch a number of buses on his way to visit the next family. And as Ohr said goodbye, I couldn’t stop myself from asking him to take care of Elie. He smiled – this is what they do, they take care of their soldiers.
When I first started this blog, I worried about who would be there to watch over Elie, to listen to him, to know him, to care. The answer, it seems, is so clear that I should have known it all along. The IDF is not an unfeeling machine that absorbs our sons – it is a living, caring, organization. They have found Elie’s strengths, in a short period of time – assigned him to a task that matches his abilities, his interests. Challenging his mind and motivating him to succeed. They have come to reassure us, his parents, that they will do all they can to keep him safe.
There is nothing for the parents to do, assures Ohr, other than ask whatever questions we have and trust them. And, the amazing thing in all of this is that I do trust them. Years ago, I brought a small boy to Israel. Israel gave him so much and now, as he gives Israel back his national service and joins in her defense, I will remember the visit of a young man name Ohr who took the time to explain.
I will enjoy seeing my son in the uniform of the army of the State of Israel because we are part of a new family, part of the Israel I have longed to join – my son is a soldier but more, he is a son of the nation now, part of the whole that we all pray for and love.